Musings off the Beaten Path
INSPIRATION and BURDEN Concrete GRIEVANCES STREET Life BETTER LIVING through LAYERS ...and more
Issue #1 : The Street
all cover art and photography by
Paula Henri Blum
Editor-in-Chief Beth Blum Executive Editor Jean-Christophe Cloutier Creative Director Paula Henri Blum
Musings off the Beaten Path
Writing and Editorial Content Beth Blum art, photographic, and design CONTENT Paula Henri Blum EDITORIAL ASSISTANT Pamela Lewis
issue 1: “The Street.” http://derivemagazine.com/. All correspondence should be directed to email@example.com. All contents © The Dérivateur and its contributors. Printed in New York. Issues are available for purchase at our website (http://derivemagazine.com). Price per issue: $18.50 (+ shipping). All payments in U.S. Dollars. Direct all inquiries, address changes, orders to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contributors Eric Bellin is currently pursuing a PhD in the History and Theory of Architecture at the
University of Pennsylvania. His research interests include architectural projects and discourses of the 19th and 20th centuries, architectural experience and the embodied subject, and the concept of “joining” as applied to architecture.
Alan F. Blum
is a Professor and Project Director of The City Life and Well-Being: The GreyZone of Health and Illness, The Culture of Cities Centre, Toronto, ON.
Charlotte Boulay-Goldsmith is a photographer and screenwriter
based in London. She has developed a distinct narrative to her work, from her early photographs to her recent large-scale triptychs. She uses traditional 35mm black and white film and her work tends to show the picture within the negative, questioning the way one looks at photography and contextualizing it as a record of events and patterns in the greater sequence of meaning. Her work can be seen from the 9th of June to the 22nd of July 2011 at the Tristan Hoare and Wilmotte. email@example.com
Saeed Hydaralli is currently a project researcher with the University of Waterloo’s
Culture of Cities Centre in Toronto. He is the 2011-2012 Visiting Fellow for the Great Works Symposium at Drexel University, Philadelphia. He has an abiding interest in thinking the city as a social phenomenon.
Alex Lockwood lives in the North East, where he teaches journalism and is reading
for a PhD in Creative Writing from Newcastle University. He’s working on a novel and a book on narrative non-fiction of emotions in culture. His work can be read at 52250Flash, Friction Magazine and the Changing Minds, Changing Lives blog.
Phillip Maciak is a doctoral candidate in English and Cinema Studies at the University of Pennsylvania where he studies religion in turn of the century literature and film. He also writes about television online for Slant Magazine.
Chloé Winders-Singer Born in Los Angeles and raised in Denver, Chloé is a recent graduate of the University of Oregon and a current New Yorker. She is a doula, a gardener, a human rights advocate and a traveler.
Carlos M. Neves holds a Masters degree in Sociology and a Masters of Social Work
degree with a clinical specialization in Children and Families. Carlos works as an Individual and Family Therapist with vulnerable children, youth and their families. Carlos’ research interests include: the client/ therapist relationship, the social construction of mental illness, representations of suicide, trauma theory and the social construction of ‘untreatable’ and ‘disordered’ youth in the mental health system. Correspondence may be directed to the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Julie Rochlin grew up on West End Avenue in NYC and now resides on a tree-lined street of Cambridge, Massachusetts. She has a private practice in Massage Therapy.
Felicity Tayler is Faculty of Fine Arts Fellow in the Humanities Doctoral Program,
Interdisciplinary Studies in Society and Culture at Concordia University, she holds a Masters in Library and Information Studies from McGill University and a Bachelors in Fine Arts from Concordia. Her research, writing and artistic practice explore visual art as a means of information exchange and the function of artist-initiated publishing as a communications circuit. She is a contributing author to Documentary Protocols (1967-1975) (Ed. Vincent Bonin and Michèle Thériault, 2009). Recent projects include an exhibition for the National Gallery of Canada Library and Archives. She is a founding member of the Centre de Recherche Urbaine de Montréal (www.crum.ca).
Aaron Winslow is a writer, editor, archivist, and student, living in New York.
The Dérivateur : What would your daily diagram be?
On Spike Lee’s signature double-dolly shot
Concrete Grievances On giving and taking offense
Symbolic Landscapes and their Adjacent Uses The destinies of an abandoned lot
39 3 Dérivateur
The conflict over street vending
Inspiration and Burden
The adventure of urban anonymity
WintertimeWoes Resisting resignation in New York
Urban futures, real and imagined
My LaborMy Pleasure Keeping the urban virus at bay
Better Living through Layers
Comeback City Walking into the unexpected in Newcastle
The Bridge and its ‘Veil’ Suicide and the matter of hope and despair in the city
The Naked Archive One scholar’s account of his archival dérives
Paula Henri Blum
Editor’s Letter The Dérivateur is an agent for musings off the beaten path. We are in pursuit of risky arguments, fortuitous correspondences and surprising deviations. Framed around the subject of the city, each issue’s theme is an urban destination determined by readers through online vote at www.derivemagazine.com (future possibilities include: the hospital, the fairground, the waiting room, the cinema, the gym). Appropriately, for our first issue “The Street” is the starting point of our trajectory. Here we pursue the urban experiences standard routes ignore: sidewalk offenses, street vendors, suicide barriers, abandoned lots, urban stratification, and more. It was French anthropologist Chombart de Lauwe who inspired the idea of the “dérive.” In 1952, de Lauwe set out to document the narrowness of the typical Parisian life. To do this, he diagrammed the movements of one student over the course of an entire year. The student’s daily routine formed a triangle, with three points representing the student’s university, piano teacher, and home. Disturbed by de Lauwe’s findings — which expose the limited scope of the individual’s movements so graphically — Guy Debord developed the concept of the “dérive” meaning a “drifting” or “wandering” experience of the city. He explains, “In a dérive one or more persons during a certain period drop their relations, their work and leisure activities, and all their other usual motives for movement and action, and let themselves be drawn by the attractions of the terrain and the encounters they find there.” The Dérivateur aims to provide a similar digression from the daily grind, unsettling the automatism of urban experience. Rather than following a preset path, The Dérivateur tracks the interests of readers and contributors to determine the magazine’s final course. This first dérive has engendered a view of the city at once cruel and consoling, lonely but also unexpectedly collaborative. What Carlos Neves in his piece dubs a “dialectic of hope and despair” informs virtually every piece in the collection, from Phillip Maciak’s description of the gritty spiritualism of Spike Lee’s films to Felicity Tayler’s account of the many lives of an abandoned Montreal lot. The city emerges in these pages as a site for conflict and also problem solving. Saeed Hydaralli details how Toronto’s streets give rise to the contentious figure of the street-vendor, while Alan Blum analyzes the flâneur’s mediation of the extremes of idleness and productivity. Chloé Winders-Singer resists resignation as she battles with the chilly New York economy, and Alex Lockwood describes the challenges faced by Newcastle and its inhabitants. The streets and sewers are sites for the spread of a gruesome viral infection in Aaron Winslow’s dystopian sci-fi piece, while Eric Bellin describes the interplay between real and imagined scenes of architectural ingenuity. Together, these pieces testify to the diversity of the city street as a site for selling, strolling, fighting, infecting, dying, building, and transcending. The alternately bleak and motivating influences of the city are reflected in the visual design of our first issue, which shifts from the cold tones of winter to the greenery of spring. What shape would your daily diagram be?
Beth Blum Editor-in-Chief
Paula Henri Blum
“At any street corner the feeling of absurdity can strike any man in the face.” Albert Camus
Inspiration and Burden
PhotographS by 9 DĂŠrivateur
Paula Henri Blum
I. Introduction and conflict in the city.1 Thus it comes as no surprise that Toronto continues to be absorbed by the drama that street vending represents. The most recent public expression of that tension is given to look something like this. According to city officials: “Vending in the city has gotten out of hand;” there’s “no saturation level for the number of permits issued;” and “there are a tremendous number of illegal vendors.” 2 So what are we to make of the persistent anxiety, brought to view in this latest quarrel, that street vending provokes? 3 Street vending is an abiding source of restlessness
II. Street Vending as an Image of the City Heidegger tells us: “Any kind of polemics fails from the outset to assume the attitude of thinking. The role of thinking is not that of an opponent. Thinking is thinking only when it pursues whatever speaks for a matter.” (Heidegger, 1977:354) What then does street vending speak for, or signify? We might begin by observing that street vending tells us by its mere existence that the city has an appetite for it; and indeed, it is the city that has called street vending into existence. The city is the medium by which the streetvendor appears. The street-vendor cannot exist without the city. Density and agglomeration are the fertile ground from which the street-vendor springs forth. The street-vendor is then organic to the city in the way that palm trees are organic to the desert oasis. The street-vendor, having been given the breath of life by the city, seeks to satisfy its benefactor by making available to the city that which it desires, whenever and wherever it wishes for those things, and cannot otherwise obtain them. In other words, the street-vendor orients to being relentlessly innovative. The street-vendor not only provides what the city already knows it wants, what it demands, but also anticipates the city’s desires. What’s more, the street-vendor is conscious of the multiple and disparate rhythms that animate a city, and knows that the only way to be up to the task of meeting the needs of that variability is to be almost indifferent to time as it is conventionally oriented to. For the street-vendor, it’s not so much a matter of business hours and non-, but rather attentiveness to when the streets are likely to be peopled, and by whom. Different types of people are stimulated by different desires. Furthermore, the street-vendor approaches her role in much the way of the traveling salesman. She understands that mobility, a change of location, movement with and within the action, is sometimes what best permits the doing of justice to the work she does, informed always by the appetite of the city. Thus the flower vendor might occupy a fixed location by day, but then move with and amongst the denizens of the city’s night. The taxi driver finds it rewarding to be stationary outside of some popular venue now, and profitable to be on the move an hour later. The vendor of arts and crafts, or the busker, sets-up here in the morning, but many blocks away in the late afternoon. The hotdog vendor similarly wants to occupy different locations by time of day, day of the week, time of the year and so forth. But for some vendors, this is not possible, as
For example, in the 1707 New York City of early America, street vending was sufficiently an issue to incite an ordinance forbidding all street selling (Bluestone, 1992:288). How street vending is a source of restlessness will be shown as the paper develops. 2 (Town Crier, February, 2002:1). 3 The extant literature almost exclusively formulates street vending as just another topic that is wholly in the grip of political economy and therefore inexorably treats all conflict in this area as nothing more than so many versions of the competitive impulse within capitalism, (see for example: Bluestone, 1992, Morales, 2000; Cross, 1992; and Gaber, 1994) where, in the words of Marx, “between equal rights, force decides.” (1867/1977, quoted in Kivisto, 2001:19) Dérivateur 10
the city regulates where they can do business by giving permission (a permit) to conduct their business at one fixed location.4 The street-vendor, given the gift of life by the city, wishes nothing more than to repay her debt by making available both what the city knows it desires, and what it does not yet know it desires. In order to do this well, it has to take the measure of the city, understand its composition, how it’s being made and remade, its changing appetites. And this measuring exercise, unremittingly called for, is fraught with uncertainty. Like politicians misreading the mindset of the electorate, street-vendors too are susceptible to misrecognizing the mood of the city, its orientation to a particular thing at any specific time. A miscalculation of what the city is able to assimilate at any moment in time brings to street-vending the quizzical and questioning eye of the city that risks becoming inquisitorial, seeking answers. Street-vending has always troubled the city’s understanding of what constitutes the practice of doing business as a feature of free enterprise capitalism in the way that it mocks 5 this same by exceeding the conventional limits and boundaries of capitalistic business practices. 6 Yet the city always seems willing to suffer these ‘violations’ in exchange for both the utility that street-vending represents (satisfies a diversity of tastes and timetables in ways that are affordable), and the vitality it brings to street-life by inviting social actors to use public space in ways that are not linked to sedentary conventions and formats, uses of the street that exceed its arterial function. 4
This is a clear sign that the city understands street-vending as a business practice that needs to be regulated, to be watched with a close eye. 5 I owe this specific usage to Alan Blum. 6 Some of these excesses include: the exclusively cash nature of street-vending which is without doubt part of the unease that some feel – “[C]ash is the closest thing we have to contraband. When you see a lot of it in a movie, you know that something crooked is up” (Gopnik, 2001:285); its ability to defy spatial and temporal constraints (it can go anywhere, anytime); and its capacity to berelentlessly innovative (satisfying a diversity of tastes and timetables).
So the city is appreciative of what the street-vendor contributes to its life, the difference that she makes, the choices she makes available, the variety of timetables she satisfies, and the vitality she adds.7 This is a love-hate relationship that might be akin to the parents who overlook otherwise unacceptable behaviour from their child (in relation to their assumptions as to what constitutes appropriate conduct) due to the very richness (both mundane and extraordinary) that that child brings to their lives. And like the child who is the offspring of her parents, street-vending is also the offspring of the city-parent, and this is a situation always saturated with, among other things, conflict. That’s because
ing to challenge the authority of the city as a means of testing their limits and boundaries. And for the city, this means things “have gotten out of hand.” There are simply too many street-vendors from the city’s perspective, sufficiently so to cause palpable unease. Not only has the situation “gotten out of hand” with the vendors that have the city’s permission to ply their trade (“there’s no saturation level for the number of permits issued”), the problem is further exacerbated (and the city is exasperated) by the presence of large numbers of those that do not have the city’s approval (“there are a tremendous number of illegal vendors”). Thus we might think of the conflict between the city and street vending as inescapable, as a function of the regulative role the city by definition has to assume, a role that is inherent to its status as a socially organized body, the city of Toronto. The city ceaselessly has to act in relation to the social forces and circulating energies that it brings together, produces, and that constitute it as a city. This is both its inspiration and its burden. The city makes possible a stimulating and vital co-existence that it has to necessarily regulate as a condition of social order, as a condition of its very persistence. As social actors, whether in pursuit of sociability or the making of our livelihoods, we make the sacrifice to the collective (the city) of relinquishing our unconditional desires in the interest of the collective’s (the city’s) constancy and persistence. Just as the social contract isn’t oriented to diminishing the social (indeed, its function is precisely the opposite, to make the social possible), so too is the city not trying to kill off that which it has brought into existence. Rather the city is simply living up to its regulative role, a role that is indispensable to its essence.
The street - vendor is then organic to the city in the way that palm trees are organic to the desert oasis the city is charged with a regulative function, one that is grounded in a social imaginary, that formulates actions and events as belonging to identifiable categories and courses of action. As action oriented to an order (Weber, 1980), these categories or courses of action are imagined to possess (implicit) limits that make them both intelligible and manageable. Any action that exceeds these implicit limits risks being seen as unintelligible, and by extension, unmanageable, and ‘naturally’ a threat to the city’s integrity and self-understanding.
III. The Necessary
Burden of the City
Critical occasions arise, then, when the city feels it must take a stand because an invisible, but nonetheless real, boundary has been breached. It appears, to the city, that street-vendors are look-
It is an especially spirited form of doing business, the kind of haggling, banter and negotiating skills that it requires and invites. The very act of buying and selling in Toronto (and similar places) has been divested of much of this zestfulness that we find in the bazaars of cities like Delhi. Street vending lends some of this effervescence back to the everyday life of the city. Street vending then not only revives the street as the place where the action is, but also produces that action as particular, more engaged, and yet languid.
It is often (romantically) said that the cities of the East (Bombay, Bangkok, Cairo, etc.) have no such trouble with street vending despite a seemingly laissez-faire attitude on the various cities’ part (See for example, Edensor, 1998). It is implied that these cities have a level of comfort with street vending, that it is so integrated into the fabric of the culture of those cities, that like the Adam’s Smith’s Invisible Hand, street vending in those parts of the world is somehow self-regulating. We suggest, in distinction, that the cities of the East are no less held to account for how they regulate street vending than are the cities of the West. In other words, the city is always burdened (charged) with a regulative role. That Bangkok et al are seemingly more accommodating to street vending does not refute the fact that they do regulate. Rather, their notions of what constitutes the appropriate density of street-vendors (and how effectively they are able to enforce the extant regulations, is a function of the particularity of each of those cities, the combination of influences that make up the particular city. In the same way, that businesses and individuals in those same cities tend to pay less (if any) taxes than equivalent businesses and individuals in the West, has little to do with the non-existence of taxation, and everything to do with the particular tax rates and the city’s capacity to enforce them. So the city thinks it has been pushed too far. And to not demand satisfaction is to imply that the ‘violation’ is not as serious as all hitherto indications would have suggested, and to concede that there was never really “a line in the sand.” Alternatively, a lack of a stance, an ignoring of the matter, might be construed as a sign of weakness, that the limits that have been given to exist cannot be defended. The city, then, would be seen to abdicate its regulative role, thereby threatening its continuity. And so, as an indication of its steadfastness, the city can no longer turn a blind eye. This is the moment of conflict, an ethical collision (Blum, 2003) that was always latent, yet deferred by mutuality and reciprocity. The time has come whereby the combatants are imaginatively brought into each other’s presence to determine whose voice will set the terms (limits) for street-vending; in effect, who gets to speak for the city. It is what is spoken of in the idiom of the everyday as “the moment of truth.” Some decisive action is being called for. Something that will resolve the matter and affirm a code of conduct that all parties are expected to adhere to. This resolution could take the form of the reaffirming the original borders, or it might see the borders shift, incrementally or radically. Ultimately though, whatever the outcome, this would only represent an irresolute resolution, an inescapably provisional ruling that points to the fundamental ambiguity of all endings or syntheses (Blum, 2003), which, as Heidegger (1977) tells us, and that both Simmel (1971) and Arendt (1979) also understood, are always the occasions for new beginnings.
IV. Conclusion The anxiety that street vending provokes is, in large measure, an inescapable feature of the organic and dialectical relationship that abides between the city and street vending. That is, the city provides for the existence of the street-vendor by virtue of the density and agglomeration that is distinctive to the city. Street vending, in turn, provides for its persistence in the city by displaying inventiveness, an innovative character that incessantly seeks to enjoy unregulated practice. The city however is charged with a regulative responsibility that is inextricably linked to its capacity for being, which then relentlessly brings the city and street-vending into confrontation, now implicit, now explicit, but never dormant. k
Bibliography Arendt, H. 1979 Totalitarianism: Part Three of the Origins of Totalitarianism. HarcourtBrace and Company. Bluestone, D. 1992 “’The Pushcart Evil’” in The Landscape of Modernity, Ward, D. and Zunz, O. (eds.). New York: Russell Sage Foundation. Blum, A. 2003 The Imaginative Structure of the City. Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press. Cross, J. Taking Street Vendors off the Street: Historical Parallels in Mexico City. Duneier, M. 1999 Sidewalk. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Fyfe, N. (ed.) 1998 Images of the Street: Planning, identity and control in public space. New York: Routledge. Gaber, J. 1994 “Manhattan’s 14th Street: InformalStreet Peddlers’ Complementary Relationship With New York City’s Economy” in Urban Anthropology: Vol. 23 (4). Gopnik, A. “Metamoney.” (2001). The New Gilded Age: The New Yorker Looks at the Culture of Affluence. Ed. David Remnick. New York: the Modern Library. pp.281-286. Heidegger, M. 1977 “Building Dwelling Thinking” in Basic Writings. San Franscisco: Harper. ---. “What Calls for Thinking” in Basic Writings. San Franscisco: Harper. Kivisto, P (ed.) 2001 Illuminating Social Life: Classical and Contemporary Theory Revisited. Thousand Oaks: Pine Forge Press. Morales, A. 2000 “Peddling Policy: Street Vending in Historical and Contemporary Context” in International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy: Vol. 20 Number 3/4. Rousseau, J. 1968 The Social Contract. London: Penguin Books. Simmel, G. 1971 “The Metropolis and Mental Life” in On Individuality and Social Forms. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. ---. “The Transcendent Character of Life” in On Individuality and Social Forms. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. Stoller, P. 2002 Money has no Smell: the Africanization of New York City. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. Whyte, W. 1988 City: Rediscovering the Center. New York: Anchor Books. ---. “The Transcendent Character of Life” in On Individuality and Social Forms. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
Paula Henri Blum
Paula Henri Blum
Paula Henri Blum DĂŠrivateur 18
Transcendental Pedestrians On Spike Lee’s Double-Dolly
PhotographS by 19 Dérivateur
Paula Henri Blum
There are few filmmakers more interested in pavement than Spike Lee. From the way that Mookie repeatedly bounds over a chalk horizon in Do the Right Thing to the ghostly blood-stained chalk outlines in Clockers; from the clap and crunch of sneakers on playground courts to the young Malcolm X’s asphalt grazing swagger; from the paranoid dead-end block at the heart of Summer of Sam to the overgrown, ravaged sidewalks of the Ninth Ward, Spike Lee’s films grow out of cracks and fissures in the urban street. But, at the same time, there are few filmmakers less grounded, less bound to the laws of gravity, than Spike Lee. His camera swoops and swings, it bobs and weaves, it lingers on the ground and rises above it. The breathtaking opening credits of The 25th Hour, for instance, swirl around the remains of Ground Zero — the makeshift memorials and organized rubble of the site — before that ground, hallowed and humbled, yields to two towers of blue light reaching into the sky. Those pillars, while weighted down by the mournful memorializing drive they represent, nevertheless break free of the ground that produces them, disappearing in the upper atmosphere. But there is nothing Spike Lee’s camera does that eschews the ground and pushes off from the pavement more forcefully and with more energy and meaning than what is called the double-dolly shot. Despite the fact that it does not occur in his signature film, Do the Right Thing, the doubledolly defines and trademarks Spike Lee as a director and as an auteur. Like Wes Anderson’s in-camera slow-motion ending or Quentin Tarantino’s trunks-eye-view, audiences have come to expect, anticipate, and look for, the double-dolly. But more than a stylistic affectation, it is Lee’s constant subject position. Here’s what it is: the camera is placed on a dolly that tracks back as it shoots an actor who has been placed on a second dolly that is moving forward. Two dollies, both moving in the same direction. The camera does not zoom but fixates on the actor. The actor does not move except inasmuch as he or she is propelled by the dolly. Everything is moving but the actor is still. The film has not stopped, but it has dissociated. The physical movement of the film has split from its narrative movement. Form has unbuckled from content. The actor and the apparatus lock together and float above but not beyond the film. The character is walking, matching the gaze of the camera, but the film is doing something else entirely with him. In the way that it sharply focuses the actor, the double-dolly recalls Hitchcock’s Vertigo track-zoom. In the way that it bolts the actor to the camera, it recalls Harvey Keitel’s drunken odyssey in Mean Streets. Dérivateur 20
But this is not either of those things. Ariel Levy, in New York Magazine, said that the double-dolly makes the world “recede behind the subject.” Lee himself says that the shot functions as either “alienat[ing]” or “transportive” depending on the context. These are all generally descriptive of what the shot conveys, what it means. But what it does, quite literally, is rise above. The doubledolly transcends. After the debut of the double-dolly in Mo’ Better Blues, a usage that Lee describes as “show-offy, student film stuff,” the next use of the shot comes at the climax of Malcolm X. Malcolm steps out of his car unwittingly on the way to his assassination at the Audobon Ballroom. But instead of filming this pedestrian in a more pedestrian manner, Lee snaps to a double-dolly as Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come” plays on the soundtrack. Malcolm, like everybody on a double-dolly, is slightly elevated, and so it’s possible to read this as Lee’s Great Man shot. The dolly is a pedestal, the motionless character is an icon. But there’s something different going on between the screen and the viewer. We know what’s about to happen, and Malcolm knows what’s about to happen, and in that moment our eyes meet. The audience’s historical consciousness and Malcolm’s prophetic consciousness loop around and touch here. This is not, I think, a broken fourth wall that we see — at least not in the way that the fourth wall is beaten to shit in Do the Right Thing — but rather, we have a whole filmic world that momentarily resettles and gives us access. Like a blood-rush to the head or the few seconds after waking up out of a dream, with this double-dolly, the film becomes strange. In its nearness to an historical instance, the film reaches the limits of its psychological realism and takes off — transcendent. The writer and director Paul Schrader’s 1972 book, Transcendental Style in Film appears in contemporary film criticism, when it appears at all, as either a book of invaluable but self-evident critical commonplaces or a work of sloppy overattachment (it is both, with a bullet). Regardless of how it is received, however, Transcendental Style is a bold attempt at cinematic definition that treats filmmaking with the same kind of awe as early twentieth-century critics like Hugo Munsterberg 21 Dérivateur
and Vachel Lindsay, for whom film form still retained some of the magic and inexplicability of the technological innovation that enabled it. The transcendental style, as Schrader defines it, manifests itself in this way in the films of Dreyer, Bresson, and Ozu: “Transcendental style seeks to maximize the mystery of existence.” The doubledolly shot does not maximize the mystery of existence. But it does do something similar. It visualizes the blurry space between the known and the unknown, maybe the visible and the invisible. Where are we on a double-dolly? That’s the mystery.
(Spike Lee, Universal Pictures, 1992)
Transcendental style, furthermore, “eschews all conventional interpretations of reality: realism, naturalism, psychologism, romanticism, expressionism, impressionism, and finally, rationalism.” The double-dolly shot, for its part, transforms rather than eschews conventional interpretations of reality. It has an hallucinatory realism that is not exactly not realism. It is expressive, it is romantic. It is not, however, rational. It is an image of irrationality. Or maybe a-rationality. Later, Schrader expands and clarifies: “Transcendental style stylizes reality by eliminating (or nearly eliminating) those elements which are primarily expressive of human experience thereby robbing the conventional interpretations of reality of their relevance and power. Transcendental style, like the mass, transforms experience into a repeatable ritual which can be repeatedly transcended.” Dérivateur 22
The double-dolly shot stylizes reality. Yes! And the blank faces of the actors on the dollies are, in a certain sense, robbed of their expressiveness. But it is not the actor who needs to be expressive here. It is the dolly, the dollies together. The apparatus itself is expressive so the actor need not be. We are in the reality of the physical, material technology of film. And oh how it can be repeated. Every movie. Over and over. What does transubstantiation look like? Like this, maybe. The double-dolly is Spike Lee’s sacrament. So the double-dolly transcends, but is it transcendental? In other words, does it, like Schrader says of the filmmaking of Dreyer, Bresson, or Ozu, make icons of the actors and alienate us from film in order to give us intellectual pause? Does it aim at the invisible? Does it, like those filmmakers do, create a spiritual effect through the sloughing off of three-dimensionality, the flattening of the screen image? Does the double-dolly liberate the subject from the material world, or, through the self-consciousness of its apparatus, the showiness of its form, does it draw attention to that materiality? How, in other words, does the double-dolly move us? Does it pull us in or push us out? Using Schrader’s language, there is apparent holiness in this shot, not in the way that it makes the camera disappear, but in the way that it possesses the camera. There’s a Pentecostal spirit to the doubledolly. The camera walks on the street. We lose place, space, narrative, and we are above the ground. But we remember where the ground is, and we know we’re coming back. This is as transcendental, as transcendent as the camera can be. You get it, for a moment, and it’s gone. k
“So we follow our wandering paths, and the very darkness acts as our guide and our doubts serve to reassure us.” Jean-Pierre de Caussade
Charlotte Boulay-Goldsmith i n f o @ c h a r l o t t e b o u l ay - g o l d s m i t h . c o m
Concrete Grievances on Giving andTaking Offense
When I notice that I am on a headlong collision course with a fellow pedestrian , I make it my mission to stay my course for as long as possible , to see how close we have to come before my sidewalk rival is willing to concede their own trajectory . Text by PhotographS by 27 DĂŠrivateur
Paula Henri Blum
I almost always walk away from such experiments the loser; most of the time my foe is too busy checking their blackberry or guidebook to even realize that they are in the midst of a sidewalk challenge of the gravest order. Sometimes, it pains me to admit, I even hear myself meekly apologizing if we happen to brush arms. Me apologizing for their obliviousness! Sociologist Jackson Toby observes, The automatic apology of two strangers who collide on a busy street illustrates the integrative function of etiquette. In effect, each of the parties says ‘I don’t know whether I am responsible for this situation, but if I am you have a right to be angry with me, a right that I pray you will not exercise.’ By defining the situation as one in which both parties must abase themselves, society enables each to keep his self-respect. Each may feel in his heart of hearts, ‘Why can’t that stupid ass watch where he’s going?’ But overtly each plays the role of the guilty party whether he feels he has been miscast or not. 1 To avoid giving offense and the creation of a scene, each participant in a street collision insincerely plays the role of the guilty. Unless, that is, the adult is like Dostoevsky’s Underground Man, who devises an elaborate scheme to avenge himself after a stranger bumps into him in a billiard hall. “I could’ve forgiven anything” he says, “including a beating, but that was too much — to be brushed aside without being noticed!” 2 Alluding to this scene in the prologue to Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison’s protagonist experiences a similar outrage: “He bumped me, he insulted me. Shouldn’t he, for his own personal safety have recognized my hysteria my ‘danger potential’?” 3 Poised somewhere between the insult and the misunderstanding, the offense needs an enforcer to emerge as such. As the grammar suggests, offenses need to be “given” and “taken” — they emerge through transaction and exchange — and to “take” offense is to make a deliberate choice. Just as it is the job of the detective to take the inessential seriously — “It has long been an axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most important” says Sherlock Holmes 4— the offense-taker is often accused of a childish preoccupation with the trivial. Nothing magnifies the fury of the offended more than when the offender is unaware that any drama has transpired. The very sting of the offense is the evidence it offers of the other’s indifference, that the other has the power to affect us, while they remain unmoved. As Dostoevsky and Ellison suggest, it is the feeling of not being noticed or thought of, even as a potential adversary, that is the true kernel of the offense. Unlike the insult, which is a directed attack, to take offense is to see oneself as a casualty of another’s empty talk. One way of phrasing the question of what makes an offense is to ask what makes the difference between something funny and something serious. It is probably not a coincidence that some of the least 1
Quoted in Erving Goffman, “Face Work,” Interaction Ritual (New York: Pantheon Books, 1967), 28 n21. Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Notes From Underground (New York: Signet Classic, 2008), 130. 3 Ralph Ellison. Invisible Man (New York: Vintage Books, 1980), 14. 4 Arthur Conan Doyle, “A Case of Mistaken Identity” Strand Magazine 2 (Sept. 1891) from The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (Oxford UP, 1998), 36. 2
politically correct shows on television (Family Guy, South Park, etc.) are also animated and so retain that aura of the child-like. It might be that the format of the cartoon goes a long way in pacifying the impulse to take offense. We are rarely offended by those whom we regard as “inferiors,” and then usually because they somehow fail to recognize our superior place. Aristotle said comedy is the imitation of an inferior action; the chuckle is the ego’s superiority averring itself. It may be the aggressivity of the joke, the latent hostility behind the humor, which the offended party lays bare. Taking offense is the laugh track come to life, intent on asserting its humanity. At its best, the accusation of offense undermines our social assumptions and revolts against the expectation of a canned response.
Nothing magnifies the fury of the offended more than when the offender is unaware that any drama has transpired Almost every day a different public figure is caught muttering an offensive remark, so that public discourse has come to resemble en endless exchange between offense givers and takers. When Barack Obama infamously remarked on his campaign trail that working-class Pennsylvanians “get bitter” and “cling to guns or religion or antipathy,” it was less the direct content of his remark than his omission of an entire demographic in visualizing his addressees, which caused the commotion that followed. Such indirectness is typical of the offense; Obama did not say “you cling to your guns,” or “you get bitter” but “they cling,” and “they’re bitter.” To take offense is to be in the paradoxical situation of feeling at once interpellated and ignored. And so, it doesn’t really matter whether you meant to be offensive when you bumped that stranger on the street. It is precisely the absence of intentionality of the part of the offender— their thoughtlessness — that triggers the offense in the first place. k
Symbolic Landscapes Adjacent Uses and their
Text by PhotographS by
Paula Henri Blum
on the uses that bump up against them. There is a neighbourhood in Montréal demarcated by the sweeping lines of an elevated superhighway interchange. The badly aging concrete structure was built in 1967, the year the city hosted the Universal Exposition, welcoming “Man and His World.” As Mordecai Richler wrote at the time, visitors arriving from “dowdy London” or “decaying New York” rode into the city on “multi-decked highways, which swooped here, soared there, unwinding into a pot of prosperity…” 2 What is not mentioned in his description is the deterioration of the gloomy, industrial neighbourhood below, recorded by Gabrielle Roy, where warehouses hampered the flow of breezes to the inhabitants of wooden houses, “stifling them slowly.” 3 Six thousand people were displaced to build the looming highway interchange, plunging the diminished neighbourhood further into social and economic decline. The Gardener has lived here since before the interchange was erected. In the mid-1990s, when the real estate market dropped, he put a down payment on a dilapidated duplex bordering an alley. He lives a short distance from the busiest intersection, which leads out of the city onto the now-crumbling highway City streets are an abstraction, their meaning contingent 1
Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities (Middlesex : Penguin Books, 1972), 39. Mordecai Richler, The Street (Toronto: McLelland & Stewart, 1969), 5. 3 Gabrielle Roy, The Tin Flute. Trans. By Hannah Josephson (New York: Reynal & Hitchcock, 1947), 30.
superstructure. Semi-trucks barrel down the lanes en route to other places, splintering asphalt and shaking foundations, a sprinkling of dust settling across his windowsills. On the four corners of the intersection are: 1) a vocational school, plain and utilitarian except for the art-deco entryway; 2) a block of condominiums, frequently for sale; 3) a dépanneur 4 with rooming house above; 4) a former bank, the eroded sandstone of the façade proclaiming its disuse. Built by the Molson brewery company in 1905, the bank has been out of service for seven decades.5 Beside the bank is an empty lot of land; an aerial photograph dated 1974 shows the lot as a void. 6 The west wall of the bank collapsed last year, toppling the full height of the building onto the uneven, scrubby dirt below. A restoration project brought new sod and a lush covering of grass and clover. The Gardener tends to the lot as the municipality overlooks one project for another and the grass grows higher and goes to seed. His personal project transgresses boundaries between public and private cultivation in the alley (spreading scarlet stalks of amaranth upon the indiscretion of the wind). The municipality is distracted by a proposal to tear down the highway interchange. When the new sod was laid, the lot was bestowed with a garbage can. As citizen groups mobilize against the infrastructure project, collection schedules are overlooked and plastic bags of dog feces overflow into piles on the sidewalk. The lot opens onto a street which rumbles with the machinery of trucks and buses. The grass curves as it meets the sidewalk, following the arched shape of the road. Sunshine moves across the site throughout the day, casting shadows of the bank and then of the three-storey building to the west. The edges of the lot narrow towards the far side as grass gives way to a system of alleys, neglected fences and the dense leafy shade of Norway maples. There is no friendly place to pause or sit. The throughway is marked by red pines, a “beautiful tree widely used in reforestation,” 7 their generous boughs forming a hinterland. It provides a hiding place for animals both domestic (dogs) and wild (skunks), and acts as a collector for blowing Kleenexes. The dimensions of the lot are defined by what surrounds it – buildings of residential or mixed-use and of uniform proportions. The eye associates open space with what could, or should, fill it in. The lot was often used for parking. A forest green Jeep Cherokee (early 90s) with shattered back left tail-light, plastic sheeting, and blue gaffer tape in lieu of a rear window. An unmarked white GMC van with a ladder fastened to the side. Their presence sparked outrage in the Gardener. He enlisted the city in a proj4
A colloquial term for convenience store in the province of Québec, translating roughly as, “to help out of difficulty.” 5 The bank’s function was altered to archives depot in 1934. Communauté urbaine de Montréal. Service de plannification du territoire. Les Banques : Architecture Commerciale 1. (Montréal : Le Service, 1980. Répertoire d’architecture traditionnelle sur le territoire de la communauté de Montréal), 117. 6 Les Banques : Architecture Commerciale 1, 117. 7 George A. Petrides, A Field Guide to Trees and Shrubs. 2nd ed. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1972), 19. Dérivateur 32
ect to define the border between the lot and the alley. Using carved and pitted blocks of granite (the cast-offs of municipal landscaping projects) he blocked the opening where the vehicles make their entrance. A hasty barrier was arranged, low enough to trip over, and broken at intervals. The rocks formed a crescent shape echoing the streetside edge, a structure that was both natural in appearance and a folly, faithful to the history of submerged foundations, the earlier development that carved farmland into tenements for factory workers.8 The GMC van and Jeep relocated, and a public market appeared on Saturdays. A harvest of vegetables from farms outside the city offered by youth in their first experience of employment. They set up white tents and tables. Baskets of carrots, tomatoes, beans, beets, and berries were subsidized to supplement the diets of social housing. They departed as they came, loading trucks on the street, and leaving behind them little piles of cornhusks wilting in patches of trampled earth. Neighbourhood parks take their character from the manner in which neighbours act upon them, and by the diversity of adjacent uses.9 The Gardener buys cheap wine from the Lebanese owner of the dépanneur. Behind the cash is a poster for the public market. Their activities don’t compete with his business. It may be different for the nearby Indian greengrocer. He and his family renovated a boarded up storefront facing the lot. When he opened three months earlier he brought to the neighbourhood fruit and vegetables as well as cardamom and anise. The Gardener wishes to protect a patch of grass – rare in an area where there are no lawns, where brick buildings butt up against concrete, and inhabitants set their chairs on the sidewalks in the hot days of summer. A lot is a plot, an allotment of land; it is a person’s destiny or fortune, it is a share, or the responsibility resulting from it.10 The Gardener seeks our approval of his stone arrangement. Do we like it? The curve in the barrier acts as compromise. A space for limited incursion. k 8
Michèle Benoit and Roger Gratton, Pignion sur la rue : Les quartiers de Montréal. (Montreal : Guérin, 1991), 1.18. 9 Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities (New York: Vintage Books, 1989), 107. 10 Oxford English Reference Dictionary (Oxford : Oxford University Press, 2003), 849. 33 Dérivateur
The author would like to thank Professor Johanne Sloan and Alexandra McIntosh for their comments on previous versions of the text. DĂŠrivateur 34
“You could almost say that a director is a man who presides over accidents.” Orson Welles
photographS by 35 Dérivateur
Paula Henri Blum
Street Life text by
Excerpt from the imaginative structure of the city
Paula Henri Blum
There is an exhilarating character often attributed to the city by virtue of its movement and congestion. Typically, the excitation coexists with the sense of anonymity thought to mark the city as an intense circulatory swirl of particles. If congestion is a powerful force in the life of the city, its significance is marked by flows of people, by the movement and dispersal of bodies over spaces, and by the socially organized ways and means of regulating such trajectories in the streets and areas of cities. For each city, walking creates street life as a common problem to be addressed and negotiated by members. That the problem appears as part of the legitimate order of the city is visible not only in the policies and ordinances that regulate traffic, the delineation of property, and the movement of the pedestrian. It also comes to view on those occasions of transgression when loitering, homelessness, the menace of congregating, and property infractions, elicit appeals to intervention and enforcement. The security apparatus of the city, in its public and privatized forms of policing, mediates between the legitimate order that marks the streets and the people who use its spaces. The life of the people of the city is often viewed, at first, as ways of working out this interactional order, reshaping it, handling infractions, and improvising solutions. This work consists, in part, of the appropriation of different streets by diverse groups and, for various purposes, imparting identities to streets themselves. Further, in continuously subverting the legal order of street life, the people of the city diversify and challenge authoritative conceptions of boundaries, areas and actions.
Walking To understand the city as a social phenomenon we must come to terms with the life of the street and, of course, with walking. That is, we must supply the missing phenomenology implied by conventions of interpreting the street as an interactional order. Being in motion, being on the street, DĂŠrivateur 40
is part of the meaning of the public life of the city. The street is not simply a space, but the place between domesticity and work, between the idleness and safety of family, and the rationalization and discipline of productivity. In this sense, both domesticity and work sustain the regularization of time and space, whereas on the street there is a revocation of such regularity and its commensurate dependability. This difference can be noted in attempts to rationalize street life as in models of way-finding (Arthur and Passini, 1992) which treat streets as a labyrinth to negotiate in solving the problem of reaching a destination. Even tourist literature that appears to treat the street as something other than regularized
upon those it lures, thinking that the one who is called to the street will never return to home and productivity, that they will remain invariably upon the street, or upon return, will be as a new person, an uncanny presence. The condemnation of the street as the habitat of idleness or promiscuity, of infidelity, decadence, and purposelessness, can only be preserved by imagining the street as either a means towards practical ends such as reaching destinations, or at the other extreme, as a spectacle or system of settings for contemplation, entertainment, and leisure as an escape from the discipline of domesticity and productivity. These extremes — the city as means and the city as spectacle — only imagine constraint (domesticity, productivity) and its escape (entertainment, respite) as the governing options of city life. These views function as parts of the discourse of the street, conceptions of its restricted economic use against which a notion of its public life must always struggle. In this discourse, the pedestrian appears on the one hand as the commuter, and on the other, as tourist or suburbanite. In such cases, the mastery of the city as a capacity to identify and negotiate its geographical terrain is taken as the sine qua non of knowledge of the city. What begins to emerge in this picture of the city dweller as one who inhabits the space of anonymity is an incipient opposition between the flâneuristic accentuation of the pleasures of fragmentation and other images of this habitation. The flâneur, as neither the tourist consumer of sites (the walking tour), nor the wayfinder seeking to accomplish a practical task (Arthur and Passini, 1992), emerges as part of an hyperbolic engagement in the textuality of the city. Plainly, we must ask after the pleasure in anonymity glimpsed in the practice of walking in the city and how it differs from the pedantic gambolling of the tourist or the survival strategies of the wayfinder and even from the “solitary promenade” of country walking (Rousseau, 1979). We want to confront the tension in versions of the pedestrian, the walker in the city, to better appreciate the offerings and allure of the city as an object of desire. On the one hand, if the walker is simply
The one who waits and walks without a plan will be defined by the moment or privatized, as a domain different than domesticity or work, formulates streets as means to an end of reaching destinations or viewing sites in ways governed by a restricted rationality. Such a pedestrian is invariably conceived as a practical actor engaged by the task of mastering the city as an identifiable region of spaces. Despite all projects for rationalizing the streets of the city as a system of spaces in order to facilitate practical mastery, the public aura of the street persists as a place that could resist regularized and instrumental relations to objectives. That is, the street persists as an invitation or provocation meant to put into question the self-containment of family and work, serving to undermine desire that is organized around a restricted, instrumental economy calculable in terms of profit and loss (Bataille, 1985). The street struggles vigorously to detach the inhabitants of the city from a restricted economy of desire and its characteristic routines in ways tinged with violence. The lure of the street is connected to this risk, this seduction: that it always endangers the sanctity of domesticity and productivity by making problematic its subject's return. Domesticity and productivity both fear the street's influence 41 Dérivateur
an example of digression, even as a figure of loiterature in the most playful and creative sense (Chambers, 1999), she seems dominated by the very productivity from which she seeks respite. This view of walking leads to competing versions of its practice and of the exemplary flâneur. These include, most immediately, the flâneur as escape from the repetitiousness of routine and mundaneity, or as empowered by the experience of singularity in the midst of the undifferentiated multitude (Chambers, 1999, 215-49), or, finally, as the instinct to defend oneself from the sensual density and velocity of city life (Latham, 1999). Thus, a discourse on the experience of the city begins to emerge, symbolized in the figure of the creative idler, who could be viewed alternatively as driven by instincts towards escape, power, or survival. These images point to certain persistent collective concerns about the city and its exemplary dweller, but to rest with them would be to accept without question a very rudimentary conception of desire. Here we need to begin to grasp movement in the city as a robust social phenomenon in order to appreciate its dialectic, its risks, and its problem in collective life. This requires us to progressively formulate the search for experience that marks the trajectory of desire in the city, first, as the search for action and, then, through the anticipation of adventure. This will lead us, of course, to Simmel’s conception of the city itself as an object of desire.
Street Life We think of the city as a site of waiting and walking and, by implication, of watching. Watching seems to bind together waiting for the action and walking in itself by virtue of the pedestrian's consciousness of his anonymity. The one who waits and walks without a plan will be defined by the moment, by whatever happens to come up. What the idleness of the city dweller points to is the willingness to be defined by the random, circumstantial and contingent. Observers have suggested that the culture of the city can best be encountered by imagining its quintessential subject as the pedestrian who walks only for the sake of walking: “Walking is by far the best way to look at cities. Nothing replaces looking while on foot” (Jacobs,
1985, 12). Walking, done for the purpose of realizing specific plans, reaching destinations, meeting appointments, commuting, or even shopping, in often appearing aimless, is nevertheless directed to sites of action and eventfulness. What binds together walking, waiting, and watching in the city is the street. Of course, the street is the path of walking but more than this it offers consummate positions for watching because of the traffic that moves upon it. Since proximity to the street or to a position for observing its pedestrian traffic is necessary for watching, watching is by and large tied to sedentary formats or posts such as cafés and benches. The relentless movement of street life requires relief for watching, for the city this is done by those who are off-duty: office workers on lunch hour, construction workers, shopkeepers and service workers could be said to be continuously observant as part of their occupations, and caretakers of children regularly organize their playground duties as listening posts. A city must create listening posts if its flow of people is not to persist as automated: it is the tension between observer and observed, between watching and being watched within the economy of urban desire that both marks the pedestrian as a social actor and provides for the inspired solution of listening posts. There are a number of tensions released by the ambiguity of the relation of watching to being watched. Since commercial establishments control most observation posts, the perspective of commerce always coexists with the demands of such posts and for spaces that would provide for them. This generates the subversiveness of pedestrians and their opportunistic search for watching and waiting space in the city, and the transformation of business establishments into observation posts and the reinvention of such posts where they had not been imagined. Part of the culture of the city consists in the lore circulating with respect to such opportunities in a way that marks the pedestrian as one in constant struggle not with the automobile, but with the city’s resistance to the appropriation of its spaces. The regulation of walking by the city through its legal order, ordinances, bylaws and rules of property exist in constant tension with the creativity of the pedestrian who seeks to find a place between the constraints of such a legal order. Dérivateur 42
Local Identifier 208-EX-237-1. Item from Record Group 208: Records of the Office of War Information, 1926 - 1951.
externality and insignificance, with its meaning as opportune material for cultivating the life. The externality of passing time is encountered by the adventurer as if cut off from the life and yet transformed and returned to its center as if a dreamlike fragment. That the present moment offers up to the future a dream of its past marks the adventurer as an incarnation of the impossible desire to make ephemerality eternal. Perhaps we might anticipate how it is the very idle, digressiveness of this character that fertilizes both the unruly emotions of distraction and the need and desire to cultivate meaning in the face of the externality of passing time. Inaction must first possess what it dispossesses in order to reject the outcome with strength (or else it risks being “sour grapes,” resentment). Thus, if genuine inaction gives up or dispossesses the present's hold upon it, this adventurous spirit struggles not just with routine, but with its own ironic selfunderstanding of the very existence of adventure in time. Can the city redeem the present? Simmel permits us to appreciate the experience of the city — seen through the eyes of its ideal speaker — as the continuous struggle to make its passing time action of significance. The ideal speaker makes the city an adventure which renews character and identity. Let us measure the typical discussion of the flâneur by such a conception. k
opposite page: Elegantly dressed New Yorkers on Fifth Avenue, Easter morning, 1906. ARC Identifier 535711 /
The idleness of observation, always an interpretive possibility, is accentuated when the relation between watching and being watched parallels the division between off-duty and on-duty activities, for if commuters and working people feel under continuous surveillance by those whom they take to be idle, commuters and strollers can feel transparent and exposed to the gaze of those engaged in labor. Finally, the detachment of watching can always be a source of contestation when those who are watched treat being observed as a violation of their privacy. This suggests that being on the street is not necessarily being in public, leading us to suspect that cities vary in how they compel the pedestrian to accept the street as an occasion which dissolves the privacy of the body. The city always raises the question of whether or how the private can and should be publicized and what is the proper boundary between the body in private and bodies in public. Just as walking and waiting, provincial cities often define watching as an activity that should not be conducted in public or else institutionalizes it in ways that minimize its risk. If these tensions exist in any city, we can view cities as methods addressed to “solve” such problems, and it is true that cities can be imagined and statistically differentiated in terms of how they produce an environment for walking, watching, and waiting, for their policies, and for patterns of segregation. Each city in some way has to create a culture of the street between the extremes on the one hand, of the unreflective flow of pedestrians as if an assembly line in motion and, on the other, sedentary enclaves of face-to-face neighbors who circulate around one another as if units of a solar system. In this way, the problem of the city is always one of confronting and renewing such privatized versions of the street, in the first case as an instrumental means to an end, and in the other as a sanctuary for those who only seek relief from isolation and nothing more. Here, the typical view of the flâneur would need to be renewed. The secret of the adventurer, that he treats the inaction of passing time as action, is linked to his knowing the difference between a life charged with meaning by virtue of its finitude and a life limited only by outcomes. That is, he knows that death charges every present moment, its
Paula Henri Blum
I have seen a total of three frozen rats on the street since I moved toNew York two months ago . That can’t possibly be a good sign Frankly . , I don’t feel much better off than those despicable creatures . Every time I leave my apartment and enter into the public domain known as the street, I am practically frozen solid in a wintry mixture of fear and arcticlike wind. These days , the streets are consistently lined with expertly plowed mountains of snow . Text by
PhotographS by 47 Dérivateur
Paula Henri Blum
Oh, the beauty of a 3-foot pile of brown ice! “What could possibly be frozen in there?” I wonder. I am convinced my spirit is buried deep down, underneath the take-out menus and discarded cigarette packs. Somewhere within the pile lie my frozen gusto, pizzazz and razzmatazz. But until my joie de vivre is released from its frozen cage, I am resigned to fumble in a dreary world. New Yorkers have an amazing ability to charge the street with vigor. They know what they want and they know how to get it. People here can cross a street and hail a taxi with the grace of Natalie Portman. Alternatively, I am constantly slipping or tripping on the icy streets of the East Village. And yet, New Yorkers rarely seem to stumble. No, they do not slip — they strut. For me, the street is not a domain that encourages the strutting of stuff. Rather, it is forever reminding me of the places I am not going. I do not walk to a fancy job every morning. Thanks to our booming economy, I barely even have a job. I work part time at an independent movie theater making and selling the popcorn. I have a few friends in the city but I am never going to hip parties at ultra-modern apartments in SoHo as I imagine others to be doing on a nightly basis. I have learned to walk faster, and thus blend in a little better, but despite my pace I have no real direction except for the bi-weekly visits to my humble concessions stand. Camus once said: “At any street corner the feeling of absurdity can strike any man in the face.” That sounds just about right. The absurdity I feel during my walks about town is exceptionally striking. A public space like the street should be an equalizer, no? We all use it, no matter who we are. But the street does not make me feel equal to other New Yorkers. If anything, it puts me in my existential place. I have a panic attack every time I open my front door because I am brutally reminded of just how far I have to walk to find the road to success. If only there were a sunshine-colored path built of solid brick that led me to a perfectly meaningful career and social life. And yet, I continue to go outside every day. I have not become a hermit yet, although I would like to. I enter the foreboding space filled with my fellow city-dwellers on a regular basis, even with the morbid rodents and litter. Even with the women who walk their dogs wearing shoes I could never afford. Yes, I continue. Somehow I am able to remember that the brown ice will, indeed, melt. My frozen spirit will thaw. Perhaps I too will possess that vigor I so admire in my neighbors. I’ll grow out of my timidity and remember that each time I pick up my feet and push my face into the wind, I pave my own humble road. k
Excerpt from dogswaiting-proposal.com by paula henri blum
from a Coffee Shop
The multiplication and stratification of public environment Text and collage by Eric Bellin have often portrayed urban ground as a condition of increasing complexity. In these imagined environments, the ground has been characterized by perpetually higher degrees of control through construction, a process accelerated by the confluence of technological progress, the growth of urban populations, and the will towards greater efficiency. This paper examines imagery that depicts urban ground and the functions it typically hosts in states of multiplicity, stratification, and displacement. Fritz Lang’s 1927 film, Metropolis, offers a provocative conception of urbanity’s future: a stratified city of three distinct realms layered one atop the other (Fritz Lang, 1927). In the metropolis proper, one finds a city bustling with traffic not only at ground level, but also at heights, crossing bridges that span between towers of monumental scale. The scene is one of complete artifice, a wholly constructed environment. Beneath lies the world of the workers, a city unto itself, encapsulated within a maze of caverns. Theirs is a totalizing environment of all-encompassing ground where even the buildings seem carved of the earth itself. And in the heights above the metropolis one finds the “club of the sons,” an idyllic world of the privileged who seem oblivious to the hardships of those below. Their ground, though partially privatized and far removed from the earth’s surface, remains such by virtue of the dirt underfoot and their environment’s exteriority (fig. 1). Throughout the 20th century, visions of the city’s future
Figure 1. The three
strata of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. Metropolis (Kino International, 2010 ).
51 fl Dérivateur Dérivateur
The layering of Lang’s metropolis structures a condition of segregation by way of these multiple and distinct realms, constituting a literal loss of ‘common ground’ that reifies the social divides about which the film launches an explicit critique. While vastly different and all artificial, the three public environments of the metropolis may each be understood as a condition of ground by its qualitative position amongst a set of binary oppositions: raw/ constructed surface, exterior/interior space, public/ private, and earth/sky. The former term of each set is a quality of ground as given, a property of its ‘natural’ state as the earth’s surficial layer. The latter term of each pair signifies divergence from its original condition and movement towards ‘artificiality.’ In humankind’s earliest settlements, it is likely that the city’s ground consisted of little more than the interstitial space around and between constructed buildings. Over time, such surfaces of dirt and grass became paved, formalizing the city’s streets and public spaces, a relative shift from ‘raw’ surface to ‘constructed.’ Prior to the 19th century, most cities maintained this qualitative position; though their public environments — streets, parks, and plazas — grew ever more constructed, the space of the city was for the most part still a singular condition of exteriority encrusted upon the earth’s surface. While it is true that many cities had long been composed of various strata, many with catacombs below grade and roof gardens above, such conditions were neither public nor displaced to the same degree as those that would soon arise, amplified by the dual stimuli of technological innovation and market forces. Throughout the 1800’s, the iron and glass canopies of Paris’s arcades rendered exterior, shoplined streets as conditions of virtual interiority, a typology that quickly spread. This internalization of public environments was furthered by the rise of department stores such as London’s Bainbridge in 1838, New York’s Macy’s in 1858, Paris’s Bon Marché in 1867, and Berlin’s Wertheim in 1896 which drew the vitality of streets indoors. New tech-
nologies of transportation — cable cars and automobiles — complicated the use of streets and began to require the differentiation of surfaces. Also critical was the development of Elisha Otis’ elevator, “presented to the public as a theatrical spectacle” 1 at New York’s 1853 International Exhibition, which paved the way for the production of ever-taller buildings, allowing urban life to become farther displaced from the ground than previously possible. In contrast to the discontinuity of movement by elevator, the rise of the escalator in the 1890s provided for smooth transition from one layer of occupation to another. And 1903 marked the Wright Brothers’ first successful flight of a powered aircraft, which would come to share the skies with the hydrogen-filled zeppelin and the 18th-century technology of the hot-air balloon — a collection of apparatus that rendered man’s dream of liberation from the ground a more realistic and scientifically validated possibility. In the context of these innovations, a new understanding of the city’s ground began to develop, a notion that would be repeatedly tested in proposals for visionary cities and urban interventions throughout the 20th century. While the stratified environments of Lang’s metropolis were designed to project a dystopian vision of segregation, alienation, and conflict, other proposals have approached the ground’s multiplication from different viewpoints. A.B. Walker’s cartoon of a skyscraper of the future (fig. 2), published in the March 1909 issue of Life magazine, presents a tongue-in-cheek vision of urbanity as imagined from the dawn of the 20th century. A caricature of New York City’s fate, the illustration depicts an 84-storey steel framework with stacked, individual plots of land, satisfying the American dream of owning one’s own piece of ground, but also benefiting from the compactness of Manhattan: “less than a mile above Broadway [and] only ten minutes by elevator.” 2 The image is comical in its direct transposition of country homes into the city, complete with all of the features and activities one expects of the countryside.
Rem Koolhaas, Delirious New York (New York, NY: Monacelli Press, 1994), 25. This quote is a portion of the caption found at the bottom of Walker’s cartoon, suspiciously absent on the version of the image that appears in Koolhaas’ text. Dérivateur Dérivateur 52 fr
On the top floor, at “40356872 Upper Broadway,” one finds a couple in the midst of a tennis volley, while in the yard just below, water cascades from an elaborate fountain. On the 80th floor a couple sits on their front porch, presumably in rocking
Figure 2. Cartoon of future skyscraper of New York City by A.B. Walker, published in the March 1909 edition of LIFE magazine.
chairs, enjoying the view down to New York’s skyline. Such displacements are rendered more comic still by juxtapositions like the donkey on the 82nd floor who recoils from the property’s edge, while below a couple hails an airplane like a taxi — and this at a time when air travel and the automobile were still nascent technologies. And yet, even in its humor, Walker’s cartoon asserts important observations about the changing conception of urban ground. As Rem Koolhaas has pointed out in his discussion of the cartoon, new techniques of construction would now allow for any area of land to be reproduced, “multiplied ad infinitum.” 3 But perhaps most interesting about Walker’s vision is his depiction of these multiplied strata as conditions of actual ground which, though privatized, are rendered as exterior environments 3
Rem Koolhaas, Delirious New York (New York, NY: Monacelli Press, 1994), 82. 4 Le Corbusier, City of Tomorrow (New York: Dover Publications), 277. 53 fl Dérivateur Dérivateur
complete with verdant yards and the full range of suburban activities. On Walker’s view, urban ground would no longer be the singular surface of times past, but rather an assemblage of constructed layers, the displaced and multiplied strata of an artificial environment. But in truth, this displacement of environments had already been well under way at the time of Walker’s cartoon. The West Side and Yonkers Patent Railway, an elevated commuter train that at its highest point traveled on a track over 100 feet above Manhattan’s streets, first opened for business in 1868. By 1900 elevated urban railways were operating in Chicago, Boston, London, and Berlin as well. And just as modes of transport were displaced to the heights above streets, other systems of rapid transit were being implemented below ground — London, New York and Paris had all begun operating sub-surface railways by the turn of the century. In these urban centers, systems of movement were effectively delaminated, distributed amongst layers below, on, and above the ground’s surface. This offered increased efficiency of movement for an expanding metropolitan populace while mitigating both congestion and safety hazards at street level. These particular capacities of mass transport would become more imperative still with the proliferation of the automobile throughout the first half of the 20th century. As such, stratified systems of movement would figure heavily in both urban fictions and realities of the coming era. It should illicit little surprise that Le Corbusier’s 1925 ‘Plan Voisin,’ sponsored by the French automobile manufacturer that inspired its name, would deal heavily with flows of traffic. In his proposal, Corbusier proposed to level “600 acres of a particularly antiquated and unhealthy part of Paris,” 4 which happened to be the historic city center on the Seine’s north bank, and replace it with a “commercial city” of glass towers and a “residential city” of housing blocks situated within a gridded matrix
of highways. This infamous proposal has been extensively discussed, received positively by few, and fiercely criticized by most. Independent of its practicability and reception, however, a close reading of the Voisin scheme in comparison with Le Corbusier’s other urban proposals offers interesting insights into the potentialities of ground within the modern metropolis. By replacing the old, dense city fabric with soaring towers, the scheme would only “cover five percent… of the ground with buildings.” 5 The free ground around each tower would become park, replacing the Figure 3. Collage composed of elements from Le Corbusier’s various urban proposals noise, pollution, and (Collage by author, images © 2011 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, darkness of the old Paris / FLC). city’s “corridor streets” expanses of grass and trees — naturalized ground, deployed as an instrument of healthful and happy living. The functions of the street, at least in terms of mobility, would be transferred to a grid of highways, which upon closer inspection reveals itself as a stratified, multi-modal transportation network. In his “Contemporary City of Three Million Inhabitants,” a 1922 precursor to the Voisin plan, Le Corbusier proposed that “three kinds of roads are needed, and in superimposed storeys” 6 divided amongst various types of traffic — transit, light and heavy traffic, pedestrian, etc. However, this highly rationalized transportation network reduces the street to an instrument of pure function. The street, as urban ground, plays roles beyond those of simply hosting movement — it also serves as a public environment for social interaction and exchange, a context for “street life.” Like transportation, so too has street life been reorganized in Corbusier’s city. In each of the parks, “at the foot of and around the skyscrapers, would be cafés, the luxury shops, housed in buildings with receding terraces: here too would be the theatres, halls and so on.” 7 In the Voisin proposal, a subway station was located at each of these commercial nodes, suggesting they might serve 5
Ibid., 287. Ibid., 168. 7 Ibid., 171. 6
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to condense street life into islands of hyper-activity at the towers bases. Where in the commercial city, street life has been reorganized into a system of nodes, for the residential city Le Corbusier posed a different, and perhaps more interesting solution. In most representations of Le Corbusier’s urban proposals, residential blocks appear to be discreet, independent structures. One particular vision of a housing block, however, suggests another way of reading Corbusier’s residential city. From a single residential building drawn in careful detail, six sets of bridges extend across and above the surrounding streets to each of the neighboring housing blocks, rendered simply as masses. This suggests that residential blocks are not to be understood as independent structures, but rather as units within an interconnected system, bound together by interior pedestrian streets. Another of Corbusier’s urban visions suggests that this thinking may even be extended to a series of roof gardens, which together with the interior pedestrian streets would effectively multiply the ground plane and redistribute its displaced activities, forming strata of public environments by which one could travel indefinitely across expanses of the residential city. While one can speculate on the stratification and redistribution of street life in Le Corbusier’s urban proposals, its importance is explicit in the work of British architects Allison and Peter Smithson. They were inspired by the vibrant activity in the streets of London’s East End slums, a locale well documented by their friend Nigel Henderson, who photographed children happily at play in the slum’s streets. For the Smithsons and many of their like-minded colleagues, modernist approaches to urban design such as Le Corbusier’s tended to “produce ‘towns’ in which vital human associations are inadequately expressed,” 8 places where conditions of urban ground seemed devoid of life. The Smithsons held that the most critical interface within the city occurs “at the doorstep between man and men,” 9 the moment 8
where the space of the individual meets that of the collective. In their words: In the old tradition, the street outside was the first point of contact where children learn for the first time of the world outside. Here are carried on those adult activities which are essential to everyday life...10 This concern for what they called “the man in the street” is most lucidly operative within the Smithsons’ 1952 competition entry for London’s Golden Lane Housing. The Golden Lane project was a multi-level housing block that sought to accommodate dwellings’ displacement from public ground by satisfying its functions with an urban element of the Smithsons’ own construction. At intermittent levels throughout the proposal, they incorporated what they called “streets in the air,” exterior galleys that would substitute for the ground outside a typical row-house, giving children a place to play and allowing residents direct access to the public realm. Visions of Golden Lane’s streets in the air show them as both corridors of movement, often lined with plantings, and spaces of public interaction where couples might stroll while parents play with their children, crawling on the ground as if in their front yard. In terms of exteriority and publicity, the Smithsons’ streets in the air constitute the ground’s multiplication by way of substitution, a feature rendered more apparent when one looks beyond the project as a single work of architecture to imagine it as one unit within a system of many. While the Golden Lane project was originally presented as a single building, the Smithsons’ later proposed that it be considered as a module within a system of urban organization. The residential blocks could be clustered and linked together, much like Le Corbusier’s proposal, by streets in the air to form a “multilevel city” where “people are in direct contact with the larger range of activities
Jaap Bakema, Aldo van Eyck, H.P Daniel Van Ginkle, Hans Hovens-Greve, John Voelker, Peter Smithson, “Doorn Manifesto”  in Architecture Culture: 1943-1968, edited by Joan Ockman (New York: Rizzoli, 1993), 183. 9 Joan Ockman, Architecture Culture: 1943-1968 (New York: Rizzoli, 1993), 181. 10 Alison and Peter Smithson, The Charged Void: Urbanism (New York, NY: Monacelli Press, 2005), 26. 55 fl Dérivateur Dérivateur
which give identity to their community.” One can envision this network of superimposed layers expanding indefinitely in the creation of a layered urbanity. The Smithsons’ project has obvious parallels with Constant’s New Babylon project from the 1960’s-70’s. But New Babylon went far beyond precedent, offering a vision not only of an alternative urban structure but also of an entirely new social and ethical order, one in which the relationship of the city to the ground plays a critical role. Constant was a founding member of the Situationist International group and proponent of Unitary Urbanism, an ideological position that “rejected the utilitarian logic of consumer society, aiming instead for the realization of a dynamic city, a city in which freedom and play would have a central role.” 11 This, the Situationists believed, demanded a new form of urbanity, one based on the latest technological developments that would allow the city to “change totally or partially in accordance with the will of its inhabitants.” 12 Whereas the old city was historic and static, the city of unitary urbanism would be an endless realm of constant flux and shifting atmospheres, set in an a-historical, continuous present — an environment of complete and perpetual stimulation and change. In lieu of the actual creation of unitary urbanist cities, a project they imagined to be realized by those of the future, the Situationists sought to approximate such experiences through the practice of the ‘dérive,’ a technique of aimless drifting through the city’s streets and public environments. A dérive involved the abandonment of all one’s responsibilities to embark upon a “rapid passage
Hilde Heynen, p.25. ibid. 13 Internationale Situationniste #2, 1958 New Babylon,” in Exit Utopia, p 10. 14 Mark Wigley, “Paper, Scissors, Blur”, p.27 15 Hilde Heynen, p. 26 . 16 Constant, “The City of the Future: Haagse Posttalk with Constant About New Babylon,” in Exit Utopia, p 10. 17 Vidler, p.83. 12
through varied ambiances” 13 of the city, seeking out situations which peaked one’s curiosity while avoiding those that bored, liberating one from the patterned repetition of quotidian life. This practice would figure heavily in Constant’s New Babylon, a project that envisioned a potential reality where life itself would be rendered a continuous dérive. New Babylon was set in an ambiguously distant future where technology would provide for the complete automation of all labor, including food production which would occur below ground, freeing humans from the drudgeries of daily life and from the need for a sedentary existence living in one place near one’s work. Lifted off the ground, the city of New Babylon would be a vast, “labyrinthine network that spreads itself across the entire surface of the earth as one immense building,” a series inter-connected and fully interiorized spaces where “people would spend their whole lives drifting through” 14 an artificial environment of endlessly changing atmospheres. Constant suggested that New Babylon’s elevation from the earth’s surface would free true ground from the city’s use, leaving it open for occupation and traffic. But within the descriptions and representations of the project, it is made clear that New Babylon is conceived of as a place of total encapsulation, a world unto itself that one would never need leave. Further, there would be no private property, as all would be provided for — New Babylon is “a world of collective creation and absolute transparency; everything is exposed to the public gaze.” 15 Here, life would be lived wholly within the public realm, yet fully isolated from the outside world. In a 1966 interview, Constant explained: The climatic conditions are no longer the determinants. And in the enormous sectors of New Babylon I have eliminated daylight all together… the whole rhythm of day and night will disappear.16 Thus, New Babylon projects a world where the ground is abandoned and redefined as the constructed strata of the labyrinth’s expanse, a condition that while floating, interior, and completely artificial still seems to argue for its status as ground via its totalized and all-encompassing publicity. While some have referred to New Babylon as “Constant’s Utopia” 17, for many its status as a Dérivateur Dérivateur 56 fr
framework for an idealized way of life will be difficult to accept. The atmosphere projected by the imagery of New Babylon often illustrates the outside world as a desolate wasteland, lifeless and drab. Even when human figures are present, they stand statically, many isolated, with an air of disorientation about them. These qualities are reinforced by Constant’s sketches and paintings of New Babylon’s interior spaces. In these drawings too, human figures are almost always solitary, distributed throughout the frenzy of lines and tones that convey the variability and inconsistency of the environment that envelopes them. Life in New Babylon seems displaced in multiple senses, and its inhabitants seem overcome by the utter groundlessness of their supposed ground. New Babylon’s atmosphere and virtual groundlessness are, in many ways, similar to another vision of urbanity’s future: Ridley Scott’s 1982 film, Blade Runner (Warner Bros., 1982). Set in Los Angeles in the year 2019, the proximate future is renFigure 4. A graphic analysis of the strata of L.A. 2019 in the film, dered a bleak and contaminated place Blade Runner (Warner Home Video, 2007 ). that, much like Fritz Lang’s metropolis, has been stratified. Scenes of the ground illustrate it as an accumulation of filth, in multiple senses. This bottommost layer collects all of the most undesirable elements of society, its aura exacerbated by fires burning throughout the urban landscape, the near-constant presence of rain, and its perpetual state of nighttime or dusk. The undesirability of this place is affirmed by the ever-present billboard floating in the sky advertising that “a new life awaits you in the off-world colonies, a chance to begin again.” 18 A chance that, presumably, many of those who could afford it have taken, leaving the earth’s polluted surface behind and a mass of derelict buildings in their wake. Of those left on Earth, the privileged are able to transcend this lowest stratum by traveling in flying cars in the heights above rather than on the ground where movement is impeded by the throngs of unsavory characters that clutter the streets. In flight, one moves between the rooftop landing pads of towers and crystalline ziggurats, making it possible to avoid the lowest layeralmost entirely. The space of the ground is thus rendered ambiguous, liquefied, formed into a fluid space of movement and occupation that spans from rooftop terraces down to the earth’s surface, the bottom to which all of society’s detritus sinks.
Blade Runner (Warner Bros., 1982).
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In truth, like the aforementioned cases of cities with catacombs and roof gardens, urban ground has long been composed of accumulated strata, but it seems that the layered ground of the 21st-century metropolis is somehow different in both degree and kind. Modern technologies allow us to dwell at greater heights and depths than ever before, and to do so over greater expanses. Never have so many distinct and active layers of ground been available for occupation — in cities such as Hong Kong, New York, Chicago, and Montreal one can traverse significant distances of the public realm across elevated walkways or through subterranean tunnels.19 Given the projected growth of cities over the coming decades and their continual reconstruction, it seems inevitable that trends toward the layering of public environments should continue, and perhaps even accelerate. But the question remains as to its ultimate impact on urban life. Will the layered environments of the future’s cities be placeless realms of disorientation and alienation? Or will urban ground’s stratification continue to present new opportunities and reveal latent potentials for the enrichment of our cities? I certainly hope the latter. k 19
Here I have in mind a number of specific conditions within these cities. In Hong Kong, primarily on Hong Kong Island, one can travel miles across elevated walkways and escalators, and subterranean shopping networks often connect to systems of public transport. In New York, there are similar connections underground as well as the High Line, currently being extended. Chicago’s Pedway connects multiple buildings downtown via subterranean passages and elevated bridges. And Montreal’s Underground is effectively a subterranean city.
References: Anderson, Stanford (editor). On Streets. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1978. Blade Runner. Ridley Scott. Burbank, CA: Warner Home Video, 2007 . Constant and Guy Debord, “The Amsterdam Declaration,” in Internationale Situationniste #2, 1958. Eaton, Ruth. Ideal Cities : Utopianism and the (Un)built Environment. London: Thames & Hudson, 2002. Feuerstein, Gunther. Urban Fiction: strolling through ideal cities from antiquity to the present day. Stuttgart: Axel Menges, 2008. Heynen, Hilde. “New Babylon: The Antinomies of Utopia.” Assemblage 29 (April 1996), 24-39. Koolhaas, Rem. Delirious New York. New York: Monacelli Press, 1994. Le Corbusier. City of Tomorrow. New York: Dover Publications, 1987 . Metropolis. Fritz Lang. New York: Kino International, 2010 . Ockman, Joan (editor). Architecture Culture 1943-1968. New York, NY: Columbia Books of Architecture, 2007. Risselada, Max and Dirk van den Heuvel. Team 10 : 1953-81 : In Search of a Utopia of the Present. Rotterdam: NAi, 2005. Schaik, Martin and Otakar Macel. Exit Utopia: Architectural Provocations 1956-76. Munich: Prestel, 2005. Smithson, Alison and Peter. The Charged Void: Urbanism. New York: Monacelli, 2005. Spiller, Neil. Visionary Architecture : Blueprints of the Modern Imagination. London: Thames & Hudson, 2006. Wigley, Mark. “Paper, Scissors, Blur.” In The Activist Drawing, edited by Catherine de Zegher and Mark Wigley, 27-56. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2001. Wigley, Mark. Constant’s New Babylon : The Hyper-Architecture of Desire. Rotterdam: 010 Publishers, 1998. Wolf, Peter M. The Future of the City: New Directions in Urban Planning. New York: Watson-Guptill Publications, 1974. van den Heuvel, Dirk and Max Risselada. Alison and Peter Smithson: From the House of the Future to a House of Today. Rotterdam: 010 Publishers, 2004. Vidler, Anthony. “Diagrams of Utopia.” In The Activist Drawing, edited by Catherine de Zegher and Mark Wigley, 83-91. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2001. Dérivateur 58
My Labor MyPleasure and
PhotographS by 59 DĂŠrivateur
Paula Henri Blum
And there it was, rolling in upon me as it always did, from off the bay, a brackish tide containing the potency of energy, a crystal storm unleashed now, and again, as Carlito and the Mega-Boys manned that ancient drill they’d found buried under heaps of mud by the old union docks, longing to plug into the main vein that runs like a power cable below the City — a real new living vein, with living blood, sometimes takes the shape of men, takes their souls, too, it has been said, but that’s just virus-talk. Always virus-talk with those ‘Boys, they’d sure been hit real hard. The truth wasn’t much better, though, seeing as how nobody knew what was down there, what pumped through that vein, or what’d happen when they got there. I sat on the docks, kneading my ribs where I felt the new growth coming in, an imperfect way of relieving some built up pressure in these late growth stages. Sat there waiting for Carlito and the gang to take a break from working that drill, a drill too big for them by half, even though that gang was all ex-army — that thing wobbled and rocked and tipped and towered around its base, not a thing those boys could do to hold her steady, try as they might. At least not that day, not when they’d been without C-Substance for so long, long enough for the virus to reclaim some of its forgotten territory, leaving gaunt shadows of men to twist in the afternoon sun around a derrick working its way down, down. After a while though I must have fallen asleep right on the dock to the distant whirr of trucks loading themselves onto the freeway, and I came to with a not-ungentle jerk of my shoulder, Carlito himself, big eyes bulging out from drooping eyelids, tell-tale virus scars, crystalline and brittle, little flakes of dry skin shaking off every time he blinked. Filthy with tar and soft mud, the smell of sulfur and oil wafting off of him, filled my nostrils. I groaned a little, sitting up, and Carlito said “How you doing, kid?” “Not bad — just a little pain in my ribs.” “New membrane coming in, is it?” Carlito smiled at this, blinked, and dry skin flickered onto his olive jacket. “Reckon so, it’s about that time,” I replied, and let my eyes drift across to the edge of the docks where the rest of the Mega-Boys were pulling themselves up and out of the putrid black muck of the river. “You let me know when that membrane’s pushing up on you, and we’ll get the Doc to take care of it,” he said, struggling to contain his glee as he nodded and smiled profusely, maniacally. “Get that C-Substance on out of you, y’know?” They needed it bad, I could tell from Carlito’s voice — the way it shook, the way it cracked, the way his eyelids were even more brittle than usual, so much so that the rhombohedral lattice system, Carlito’s own special manifestation of the virus, had started to make its imprint on his skin, bulging up and cracking as that cubic structure formed just under the surface — yeah, they all needed C bad, but maybe Carlito needed it worst of all. “You coming back with us in the truck?” Carlito asked me. “Nope,” I said, “I’m gonna walk back, need to stretch out this cramp.” “Alright, then. You just take your time. But come by the tent for chow.” That wasn’t a suggestion — Carlito meant to take care of me, whether I wanted it or not.
NNN All through those painful late-stage growing periods, when pain made thought nearly impossible, one image stuck with me, the image of the ones I’d left behind at the farms after the firebombing. Especially #3498, in the tank right next to me, never knew her name, though one day I thought ‘let’s call her Debbie, or Spew, or Debbie Spew,’ because whatever they took from her they left her with asshole and genitals sewed up tight, tube shoved down her throat carrying up a constant drip of fecal matter and urine. Her eyes, open and dull with an opaque gaze, never blinking, never watching. Her arms thin and atrophied — they didn’t even bother to give her electro-muscular therapy — maybe not even a person, anymore, only Dérivateur 60
a body alive enough to take an organ from once a month. But for the first 15 years of my life, Debbie Spew was the only other person I saw, besides the distorted reflection of myself in the curved glass of the tank. And then the firebombing cracked my tank and I spilled out, and ran on weak legs, wobbling but running. I looked back and saw flames licking Debbie Spew’s tank, amniotic fluid starting to boil, and I just kept on running, hitched up the coast along those deep wide highways until one day, in a lean-to of corrugated metal that served as a stopping point for other people running from the farms, someone whispers in my ear in the dark, says, “Up there in the City, that dude Carlito’s looking for someone just like you,” and I didn’t ask exactly how he knew so much about me, but now I can guess that Carlito’s got his ways. And if Carlito’s got any form of genius in him, it’s surely his powers of intuition, the way he’d always known I was out there, and all he’d have to do was pay attention and wait, wait for me to cross into the Fracture Zone and come right to him, up to his doorstep, and tell him who and what I was and that I’d trade my services for food and shelter and especially protection and he’d smile warmly at me through a face disfigured by years of untreated virus and then he’d say ‘you’ve come to the right place, kid.’ Which of course is exactly what happened.
Carlito’s boys all lived in an abandoned public housing building, one of those huge brick towers jutting up from the ground in clustered concentric rings, and to look upon them from the sky must be to look at the spokes of one of the wheels of the City. They had two towers, one for living in, and another for smashing up when they got real amped up after a fresh batch of C-Substance, or for sitting and staring into space when the virus hit them hard at the tail end of the cycle. One night I sat with a group of guys around the great hole in the center of the so called smash-up tower. The hole, about the length of two guys endto-end, ran from about the ninth floor all the way 61 Dérivateur
up to the thirtieth, and seeing as how those floors themselves were uninhabitable, this vertical corridor became, by unspoken designation, the place where anyone who wanted to could go and sit in silence smoking cigarettes or dope or drinking, only the wind from those thirty-one floors blowing past you. And that night one of the younger ‘Boys who called himself Deet turned suddenly and stared
at me and said, as if continuing a conversation never started, “Then we saw that it weren’t just alive — it was a lung, it was breathing, big quakin’ shudders that we thought all along was just our own smashing.” Deet broke a code of conduct right then and there, just by saying anything. Shouldn’t have been a big deal, but the virus runs a course that is tortuous and unpredictable, inspiring the inexplicable in one and all, and one of the other guys, Cal, who’d just been sitting there nodding his head suddenly stood up like a bolt, walked over to Deet,
grabbed him by his shoulders and chucked him over the edge of the great hole, and I watched him fall those thirty-one floors until his body crumpled on the ninth floor. Everyone sat in total silence, and Cal went back to sitting and nodding, just like before.
NNN Three days later, like clockwork, I felt the membrane break and Dr. Harding was there to cut it open and pull out the C-Sacs just before the self-digestion phase kicked in. Harding, as always, did a half-assed job with the anesthesia, and I could feel the slow slicing of his scalpel along the contours of my belly where it arced up — not a clean cut in the least, Harding’s hands shook as he made a jagged, jerky drag. I could feel the scalpel catch on each irregular edge of flayed skin, then Harding’d pull harder, and there’d be a little snap as the skin gave way. The anesthesia worked just well enough to let me feel it, to have a sense of pain that hovered there on the edge of perception, as if you were drawing a circle but somehow your hand was fatigued and you couldn’t quite get it perfect, and couldn’t quite connect the two ends, so it turned out to not really be a circle on the page but was one in your mind only. The whole time Harding stood there slicing and pulling at my skin, he hummed little tunes that I guess he made up, and would sometimes talk to me, knowing that I was awake but that I couldn’t say anything, ramblings like “What we are witnessing is a heightened case of autoimmunity…such immunization must become the only reality.” Finished, Harding scrubbed his hands in the sink, same sink they washed raw meat in, a sink with a big white plastic tub for a basin, ringed with dark blood stains and chemical burns, and I looked over into the tray beside the table and saw my membrane broken open and spilling gray and foamy fluid overtop a bundle of translucent sacs, the stems twisted round one another. I started to count up the sacs when Harding came round and said loudly, “A baker’s dozen, son…” And he was already pushing a hypodermic through the tough skin of the first sac, withdrawing the C-Substance. “You’ll be a hero to the boys.” “I always am,” I said, fingers tracing the uneven ridges of the raw stitches.
NNN With the ‘Boys newly amped up on C-Substance, and the virus at bay for the time being, the drilling operation went ahead full steam. Always like this, three or four days of hyped-up drilling where they’d make significant progress, and then a long spiraling decline until most of them couldn’t even walk, even worse if my membrane came late, or if it came in irregularly or deformed and unusable, or if there wasn’t enough to go around. But in these first few hours after a C-Substance injection, they didn’t take any breaks, didn’t need any, they just came out off the rig for a little bit to smoke a joint, talk about the progress they were making, how many days it’d be before they hit the main vein. This would be their ultimate revenge, to bleed the City dry once and for all, to take its lifeline and yank it out from under it. “Any day now, any day now,” Carlito chanted, flexing his grossly inflated biceps. The rest of the ‘Boys nodded along in time, like it was the only song they knew, or the only song they cared about. And it probably was. k
Walking into Newcastle one stop at a time
What does it mean to ‘walk into’ something? It’s immediate — but freezes you into that moment. And although you weren’t expecting it, you should have seen it coming (shouldn’t you have?). There’s no other term (not ‘find yourself in’; not even ‘run into’) that looms over the act of walking with such terrorization. Your freedom to walk is obstructed, curtailed, and by the time you’ve ‘walked into’ whatever ‘it’ is, you’re already dead (in your tracks). You’re there: not at, but in, immersed, merged and absorbed. Aware, but almost certainly not prepared. You can ‘walk into’ the street, but that’s different from walking ‘along’ it, as if only at its centre can you understand what trajectories you might take, if only you knew what ‘it’ is you’ve just put yourself into.
Fifty-five Degrees North. Newcastle is England’s northernmost large city, the capital of the least populated area in the country, and a port that once serviced the largest ships in the world. It’s an old Roman fort and the beginning — or end, depending on how you look at it — of Hadrian’s Wall, which marked the furthest point of the Roman Empire. It was devastated by the end of the industrial age, but has rebuilt itself around commerce and culture. And it’s cold. It’s on the same latitude as Moscow and the Grand Prairie in Alberta, Canada. But that doesn’t stop its residents, the world-famous Geordies, from going out without their coats in all weathers. Earlier this year, in Britain’s fiercest winter for thirty years, the local police had to issue a warning reminding people to wear enough clothing. Only, as they say, in Newcastle. Summers are at least warmer, although the heat gets to some. At 2.40am on a Saturday last July, Raoul Moat, a former doorman at a nightclub in Newcastle’s Bigg Market, walked over to his ex-girlfriend’s house to find the mother of his daughter with her new boyfriend. He shot them both, killing the boyfriend. It later emerged in a 49-page letter, in which he ‘waged war on the police,’ that he overheard from the street below their window, like a modern-day Cyrano, the couple making fun of him. Moat had been released from prison two days earlier, having served a sentence for assault. The prison service warned police he had made threats about his girlfriend. He also shot a policeman later that day, after walking up to the officer while on patrol. The policeman was blinded.
text by design by
Paula Henri Blum 1
Could anyone have known what the cast of this story were walking into that night? The new boyfriend — did he know? The chase over the next four days led police to Rothbury, a town outside Newcastle, where Moat went into hiding. Popular myth had it he was a trained survivor, living off the land. In reality, he stole tomatoes from an allotment. The British Press was criticised for its sensationalism of the event. India Adams had been working for North News and Press for just four days when the story broke. She hadn’t even graduated from her Masters in Journalism at the University of Sunderland. Adams was sent to see if she could get an interview with Moat’s mother, Josephine Healey. She had walked straight into one of the toughest situations she would ever face, door-stopping the mother of a murderer; a harsh introduction to the news chase. ‘The guy from one of the other papers told me to fuck off,’ she said. ‘But I’m glad, because Moat’s mother had mental health issues, and they’re now going to have a complaint against them. North News has never had one; imagine if I’d got them a complaint in my first week.’ There was an outpouring of sympathy for Raoul Moat. Many believed he’d been bullied by the police. People laid flowers at the spot where he was finally shot. Raoul Moat’s homecoming touched a nerve of many who feel pushed around by the British political and judicial system. As Lee John Barnes, a British Nationalist writer / blogger, put it: ‘No-one gives a shit about the White English and British Working Class anymore… There are now hundreds of thousands of Raoul Moats out there on our streets.’
I worried over this when, not long after, the English Defence League held a rally in Newcastle City Centre. The EDL is a far-right nationalist group that protests against Islamic fundamentalism in particular, and anything non-white in general. The general term employed by far-right groups is that Britain is ‘sleepwalking’ its way into an Islamic State (by 2025, so claim the British National Party on their website). On the morning of their rally I accidentally walked into them as they bought breakfast rolls at Subway, near the city’s central train station. As I Twittered later that day, I wondered if they were aware of the Italian-immigrant roots of the sandwich franchise? They all looked to me like carbon copies of Raoul Moat. White, heavy set, with a rage at the world. Later, I walked past two of the protesters again as they were, I assumed, heading home. Our paths crossed near Newcastle University’s Robinson Library, where a group of Chinese students were sitting on the concentric benches outside. I hesitated — waiting in case there was any trouble. The men walked past like those Cowboys in old films, widelegged and drawling. The EDL took their march past through the Bigg Market, where Raoul Moat met his ex-girlfriend, Samantha Stobbart, who walked up to him one night and started chatting; who he then shot. The area is popular with the hundreds of Bachelor and Hen parties that descend on Newcastle each weekend. Groups of men dressed as superheroes, dressed as women, or not dressed at all, prowl the streets of the city each weekend, looking for strip bars, cheap deals on drink. Groups you wouldn’t really want to walk into.
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According to travel website Trip Advisor, Newcastle is the 3rd most popular destination in the world for British Bachelor and Hen parties. The others in the list are all capital cities (London, Berlin; even the smallest, Dublin, has a population four times larger than Newcastle). The streets of these other cities can absorb the visitors much more easily. But Newcastle has rebuilt its culture around tourism — specifically, the alcohol economy. It used to be a major shipbuilding region. Now it’s not seasickness that’s afflicting the population, but an altogether different leggy problem. As journalist Alison Nargie wrote in the city’s local newspaper, the Journal: ‘The fear is that Newcastle could go the way of the Temple Bar area of Dublin in the late 90s, where economists calculated the “turn-off” factor of stag and hen nights drove away £57m of business every year.’ For someone like Angela, a transgender individual and Newcastle resident, the city streets are a no-go area — not just at night. ‘I’m threatened at least once a week,’ she told me. ‘I’m just out walking, and they want to kick my head in.’ Journalist Suzy Dean, who is researching a book on the relationship between freedom and alcohol, suggests to me that Britain doesn’t have a drink problem. I suggest she’s never spent a night walking the Bigg Market. How many of those visitors on their bachelor or hen party remember the city? How many of them come back? How many does Angela want to come back?
Cross the Bigg Market at Clayton Road, turn right past the Subway where the English Defence League gather for their bacon sarnies, and you reach Westgate Road, where next to Armstrong Motorcycle Engineering is a safe house for at-risk women. Men are not allowed, but they stand on the street outside, wooing, if that is the right word, the women inside. They’re not allowed to be there — sometimes the police are called. Katie lives two doors down from the safe house. ‘We have to tell the men they’re climbing over the wrong garden wall,’ says Katie. ‘They tell you to fuck off. But they realise they’ve got the wrong house, in the end.’ Katie overhears the conversations between the women in the house and the men below their windows. ‘They hate them, but they can’t live without them,’ says Katie. ‘You’re my life. You hear them say that. I’m coming back, just give me some time.’ Two years ago Katie, a lawyer who lived in London’s East End, faced a decision: burn out, or leave her city life and come home. She now lives with her parents while she does a Masters at Northumbria University. Newcastle thrives at academic research, riding high in the league tables. There are over 35,000 students in the city. The first major research into British youth drinking habits was done in the Bigg Market by a sociologist based at Northumbria University. The pace of life in the North East is suiting Katie better. She can’t go far though — she’s suffering from chronic fatigue, something she never realised while enacting her own personal diagram in London between her flat, the City’s Square Mile, and the bar. It’s not the stresses of London Katie misses the most, but its restaurants. ‘In Newcastle, no-one demands excellence when you go out,’ she tells me over runny Garbanzos and untoasted pan tomaca at one of the city’s few tapas bars. ‘So this is what you get.’ I ask her if she would come back to this restaurant? ‘The house Rioja is nice,’ she says, wistfully.
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As you step outside the tapas bar and go right up Leazes Park Road, you are shadowed by the great white shark of St James’ Park, the stadium of what many pundits have called Britain’s most fanatical football supporters. Outside the ground the closely-knit streets on its East side are in almost perpetual darkness, although on match days what they lack in light they make up for in noise. I ask a fan, Tim Callaghan, if Newcastle fans are the most fervent in Britain? He’s annoyed. ‘We’re no more fanatical than any other set of supporters,’ he says. ‘Every season ticket holder comes back and watches their team each week, don’t they? No, Newcastle aren’t more important than my girlfriend.’ He’s planning to get married. I ask him if he will have his bachelor party in Newcastle. He doesn’t answer.
Walk away from St James’ Park, down Westgate Road and you will eventually reach the city’s Literary and Philosophical Society. It’s one of the oldest and largest private libraries outside of London. Inside you can get tea and coffee at cheaper prices than Starbucks or Caffè Nero, and the biscuits are free. It’s a talking library. At one end of the main table in the library the old men of the Lit and Phil gather each morning, read the paper, chat, discuss life and the world. George is always there. He’s working on a book, his memoirs of the war. He drinks his tea with plenty of sugar. When you sit down at the long table to work it’s like walking into a scene from Dad’s Army. George doesn’t seem to like young men in the library. He rebuffs me with a look when I try to ask him about his book. The young women, however, are welcome.
Dramaturge Alan Lyddiard is waiting for me outside the Crisis Skylight Café, on City Road. It’s not far from the Lit and Phil — just five minutes down Westgate Hill, under the Metro Radio roundabout (if that’s its official name — everyone calls it that). He’s wearing a t-shirt and a baseball cap, and he orders an Asian noodle soup. ‘This may be difficult,’ he says, ‘I’ve just come from the dentist, and my mouth’s numb. Feel free to look away.’ I’m meeting Alan to have my photo taken for his ‘100 Faces, 100 Stories’ installation. I’d written a story for the installation about walking past a homeless man who lives on the streets (Eddie: we talk now, mainly about the weather). Newcastle has the second highest population of homeless people, or those at risk of homelessness, in the UK, after London. A bleak version of the reason why is that Newcastle is as far as the homeless of Scotland can get on the way to London before being thrown off the East Coast train. The sun bursts out as we wait for the photographer. ‘It’s a little creative hub here isn’t it?’ says Alan. ‘It’s a bit like Paris.’ Alan should know. His theatrical adaptation of Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London has been shown on every continent. If he means ‘a bit like Paris’ he means, I think, the streets of Baudelaire and Brancusi, the midnights of lovers fighting or streetmenders playing Belote or the rag-pickers going through the bins on Rue Montmartre. He doesn’t mean the top’n’tailed chics catching their “limouseine de luxes” to the Hôtel de Crillon. Nor does he mean, as far as I can tell, the Paris of the banlieues, although that is perhaps a closer comparison.
Leanne Pearce is working with Alan on the ‘100 Faces’ installation, designing the artwork. It seems Leanne has her creative thumbs in a number of pies. She looks at me with that I-know-you face. She’s a craftsperson, making things, and is on the committee for the Made In Newcastle initiative. We go there next, up Westgate Road and into the city, towards the old-fashioned Grainger Market, where they still sell apples by the pound and close on Sundays. Made In Newcastle took over a shop near the Grainger Market. During the credit crunch and recession, 1 in 10 shops in Newcastle closed — even as they opened the new shiny and expensive extension to the Eldon Square Mall, a street over from here. Made In Newcastle was a response to that, and an important addition to the city’s creative industry. The space was home to a writing group, it had a writer in residence, and could be used on a quid pro quo basis — use the space, but give something back to the ‘Made In’ community. One in every five shops along there, Pilgrim Street, is still empty, or closing.
All the more reason to get away, one might think, but there’s no going away without coming back. So says Paul Smith, a Newcastlebased journalist and blogger, who had the idea to travel as far as he could on people’s generosity donated via the social media network Twitter. He got as far as New Zealand. His story is told in the book, The Twitchiker. It is peppered with the feeling, if not the phrase, of ‘what the hell have I walked into here?’ although with tongue firmly in cheek. Paul spotted a copy of his book the day before the official release date in Waterstones, opposite Monument. Naturally, he Tweeted about it. I walk Pilgrim Street to Monument, the city’s great open square, to Waterstones. I find Paul’s book, but it’s only in hardback, and so I don’t buy it. And because he already Tweeted about it, and because we all read less every day, I never get to hear the end of his story – how he made it back to Newcastle. Maybe he flew.
From Pilgrim Street I walk to Exhibition Park, from where the greatest street event in the UK begins: the Great North Run, a seething body of 60,000 people, professionals and amateur runners alike, taking part in the world’s largest organised race. The Great North Run leaves from Exhibition Park, along the A184, and finishes in South Shields, the constituency of David Miliband MP, who upset voters during the 2010 election by not recognising where he was when canvassing in the area. Runners are met by family members in the Crab Shack or the other pubs along the beach strip, and then queue for hours along Beach Road to catch the Metro back to Newcastle, where they disperse home or around the UK, or overseas. I wonder if its circular nature — out to the coast, and back — has anything to do with its success. It is not the migration of wildebeest, but one cannot move in the city during the Great North Run. To walk into this crowd is, as with many others in this city, to be swept away.
So, if you’re not running, it’s best to get out. Twenty miles northwest of Newcastle is Rothbury, now infamous as the place Raoul Moat was shot in what his brother has called ‘a public execution’ by a phalanx of armed police more suited to events such as the July 7th bombings, rather than a sad, solitary cuckold’s last moments. I park up and walk along the perversely narrow High Street. The thinness and slopes on either side remind me of, years before, walking through Sarajevo, imagining the siege and claustrophobia that its residents felt, and how the geographical lie of its main street worsened both personal and national wars. The Muslims buried their dead in their gardens because they couldn’t get to the city’s graveyard within 24 hours, as their religion dictates. But there is nothing to walk into here — no drama, no event. I find nothing referring to Raoul Moat — that story has been wiped away. I walk up and down the High Street. The Turk’s Head pub offers ‘accomodation [sic] for one night or more’. It hasn’t updated its signs for a while — it still claims it’s a Vaux pub, the now defunct Sunderland brewery. I go into a shoe shop, the type that one wonders how it survives: everything brown and leathery, not only the shoes. I turn around, exit, find myself on the High Street again, ready to go home. I’ve seen enough. k
Paula Henri Blum
Down West End at Dusk Purple golden buildings Dressed in Art Deco Art Nouveau Roman Italianate relief Wide-eyed tongued beasts And cherubs with violins Slap of the evening air Our eyes wet by the cold Blurred by the ocean Of headlights Down the avenue Spires water towers Rooftops Cut the sky Into stained glass Windows once black Expose rooms With ornate chandelier Or naked bulb Click click of high heels Mica in cement glistens Going home going out The dull scream of buses Breaking on Broadway Dogs once pent up Now shake their collars Like church bells ringing We will be released Soon we will be released
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Paula Henri Blum
The Bridge and its‘Veil’
Suicide and the Matter of Hope and Despair in the City
Carlos M. Neves
photo-collage The Luminous Veil, Prince Edward Viaduct, Toronto, Ontario.
Paula Henri Blum
Introduction In March 2003, five years after it was approved by City Council, a suicide barrier, the “Luminous Veil,” was installed on the Prince Edward Viaduct in the city of Toronto. I want to show how a particular dialectic of hope and despair comes to light as a public issue in the city, by theorizing the construction of the suicide barrier as a contingent solution to a collective problem that resists any final solution. How might the temptation to despair that suicide at that site represents be surmounted without amplifying that very temptation through a material intervention designed to prevent it? The debate that preceded the construction of the “Luminous Veil” makes reference to a number of collective notions that transcend the logic of suicide prevention. These notions allow us to dramatize the collective fascination with the barrier as an encounter between the voices of optimism and pessimism, an encounter that reveals a particular relation between hope and despair that remains fundamentally ambiguous. The collective interest in the barrier is linked with the status of the Prince Edward Viaduct as an object of desire in ways that allow us to bring to view a particular dialectic of human desire that would otherwise remain mute and unformulated. The “Luminous Veil” is more than merely a technical solution to the problem of suicide – its meaning goes beyond its function as a preventative device. The purpose of the barrier is of course to prevent people from jumping off the bridge, and it does accomplish that. Not surprisingly, the rationale advanced for building the “Veil” invoked a discourse of suicide prevention and operated with a conception of the subjective experience of the “jumper” as somehow tempted by the availability of the bridge as a means. However, this reasoning was often challenged by the argument that potential jumpers would simply go elsewhere to do the deed. There is, in fact, no conclusive evidence to suggest that the overall suicide rate has been lowered, an argument continuously advanced by opponents leading up to the decision to build the barrier. Some have argued that the barrier came into being as a result of the work of a few committed activists who spearheaded a campaign and captured the collective imagination of the city over the problem
of preventing suicide (Porter, 2001: 2). But would this imagination have been stirred had the barrier been planned for the TTC subway system? Interestingly the rates of suicide there are greater than at the Viaduct which suggests that there is something else at work here, something specific to the bridge itself that mobilizes collective sentiments in a way which makes the staging of voluntary death there a problem that exceeds the logic of suicide prevention.
The Bridge as a Site of Collectivization (Optimism) City residents approved construction of the Prince Edward Viaduct on New Year’s Day 1913. The purpose of the bridge was to link the eastern and western parts of Toronto that at that time remained largely separated by the Don Valley. It was opened in 1918, and has the historical distinction of turning Toronto into a single city, marking it as a symbol of growth and collectivization. “The designer, Edmund Burke, fought long and hard to have a second deck added to the bridge for trains, a cost the city was not willing to provide for. Nevertheless he finally got his way, and thereby saved the city millions of dollars when the TTC subway started using the deck in 1966” (www.wordiq.com/definition/Toronto#history). More than a simple means of linking communities separated by nature, the Viaduct came to be seen as an object that epitomized “the city’s latent but limitless possibilities in the collective imagination of Torontonians” (Krauss, 2003). The bridge tends to symbolize more than the extension of the sphere of collective will over space. Its function as a means of abolishing distance and separateness is exceeded by an aesthetic value that it crystallizes. According to Simmel, the bridge supports the eye in connecting the sides of the landscape just as it supports the body in its movement across it, from one point to another (Simmel, 1994: 6). But the bridge also transcends its “purpose” in another way. It becomes something visible and lasting and as such “draws the practical purposive meaning of the bridge into itself, and brings it into a visible form in the same way as a work of art does with its ‘object’” (1994: 7). However, unlike the work of art, and despite the fact that the bridge Dérivateur 74
is a synthesis transcending nature, the bridge actually “fits into the image of nature” (1994: 7). According to Simmel, for the eye it stands in a much closer and much less fortuitous relationship to the banks that it connects than does, say, a house to its earth foundation, which disappears from sight beneath it. People quite generally regard a bridge in a landscape to be a picturesque element, because through it the fortuitousness of that which is given by nature is elevated to a unity, which is indeed of a completely intellectual nature (1994: 7). The bridge is a particularly potent image of two kinds of impressions, namely, separateness and unity, with the accent tending to fall on the latter. It represents a creative act of unifying the apartness of natural being (the distance between the two banks of the Don Valley) at the same time that it aims to overcome the social separateness of the city. As such it references a kind of collective optimism that is intent on connecting the separate as a sign of the city’s latent, but limitless possibilities.
The Bridge as a Suicide Magnet (Pessimism ) Michael Ondaatje’s description of the construction of the Viaduct in his novel In the Skin of a Lion certainly marks the bridge as a symbol of confidence and optimism, as a gift of one generation to those yet unborn, but it also suggests a dark side when one of his characters (a nun) is blown off the bridge by a gust of wind before being caught in midair by a worker suspended on a rope (Krauss, 2003). The Viaduct has the distinction of being regarded as a suicide magnet, second only to the Golden Gate Bridge. Since it opened in 1918, 400 people have flung themselves to their death, a trend that was effectively halted by the erection of the suicide barrier. What in fact makes the Viaduct, or any bridge for that matter, a magnet for suicides? Is there something specific to the bridge itself that offers those tormented by their separateness a particular opportunity to bolster their resolve to kill themselves by exposing them75 Dérivateur
selves to the pull of the valley that falls away below? Perhaps the more important question is not so much why people choose the bridge as a site to stage their own death, but rather what effect this act has on the collective imagination? Pursuing this question allows us to understand what the deeper problem is that the construction of the suicide barrier as a social action tries to solve. Suicide from the bridge subverts the meaning of the bridge as a site linking life, of people and places that would otherwise remain external to one another. The suicide from the bridge in fact violates the collective sentiment formed around the bridge as a symbol of Toronto the good. The suicide represents the triumph of pessimism (separateness) over optimism (Toronto the good) and the absence of hope (connection) that threatens to ruin the bridge as a site of collectivization. It is a kind of negation of the unity that the bridge represents for the collective imagination. The accent is now placed on the separation of the suicidal person from the rest of the community, marking the bridge as a site that exhibits social failure, thereby provoking a debate over an intervention that promises to redeem it. In addition to viewing the bridge as a suicide site that marks it in ways that negate its principal synthetic function, we might think of the bridge as a suicide site that shares the character of what Simmel called the “ruin.” The suicide quite literally transforms the status of the bridge from a site of life to a site from which life has departed (Simmel, 1994). The bridge of course remains subject to being overwhelmed by the power of nature, and as such contains within it the possibility of coming to ruin in the more conventional sense, with all of the attending aesthetic charms that are attached to that spectacle (Simmel, 1994). I want to use this concept of the ruin in a different sense by suggesting that when voluntary death is staged there, a life literally departs from it. This act releases a problem for the collective that goes beyond the issue of how to prevent suicide: in becoming a site where the act of suicide is staged, the bridge provokes the problem of coming to ruin before its time. The suicide barrier might be theorized as a kind of anticipation of the collective anxiety associated with the problem of decay and the effort required to slow it down. The bridge’s reality as a
suicide magnet, as a site of life from which life departs, disturbs the image of Toronto the good (a site of life) and so releases a collective problem that the barrier attempts to solve.
Building the Barrier It took roughly five years of lobbying for Michael McCamus and Al Birney, two local mental health advocates with relatives who suffer from schizophrenia, to persuade a reluctant City Council to set aside the money for restructuring the Viaduct. They argued that if New York and Paris could add protective structures to the Empire State Building and the Eiffel Tower to avert suicides, Toronto could do the same. Their campaign picked up sympathy in 1997, when a 35 year old man jumped off the bridge to his death shortly after a man convicted of abusing him as a child received a two-year prison term, a sentence widely viewed as too lenient. The case drew national attention because the convicted abuser was part of a ring operated by employees of Maple Leaf Gardens, formerly the arena of the Toronto Maple Leafs hockey team (Krauss, 2003: New York Times). McCamus and Birney tried to argue that similar fences reduced incidents of bridge suicides in other cities, though no evidence was marshalled to support the claim that such an initiative would lower the overall suicide rate. A flurry of letters and columns appeared in the local papers as the initiative was making its way through City Hall. The most frequent source of debate and contestation was over the price tag. Initially projected to cost $1.1 million, it soon became clear that it would take roughly $6 million to do the job. Some of those who opposed the barrier argued that it would be a waste of money – money that could be better spent by investing in existing suicide prevention services. Others argued that such an initiative would be dangerous to our “collective soul.” In the words of one resident, “By putting up cages, fences and wires, not only will we feel more and more like rats, we will begin to behave more like them” (Hubacheck, 1997). Over and over again, people recognized that building a barrier was not a “real” solution to the problem of suicide and saw it as a foolish and aesthetically ugly attempt to solve a problem whose roots are collective in nature.
Those in favour of building the barrier basically reiterated the prevention argument in different guises, and supplied, perhaps unwittingly, a particular version of the subjectivity of the suicide from the bridge. Supporters of the barrier contended that those at risk of suicide are particularly prone to being overwhelmed by the impulse to self-destruction that seizes them and overtakes their desire to live. Experts on both sides of the debate shared this assumption; they imagined that the bridge did have a certain power as a suicide magnet that could not be resisted by those who were suicidal. Imagined here is a kind of seduction, a temptation that the bridge itself enacts or provokes in the suicidal person. Drawing on psychological expertise proponents claimed that in some cases, if the means are lacking, the suicidal impulse often passes, and may never return again with the same intensity (Floyd, 1998). A life can be saved from itself if it is deprived of the external means that it contingently finds ready to hand. This brings to mind an observation that Durkheim made long ago, namely that there is a type of suicide that is “impulsive” or “automatic.” “The sight of a knife, a walk by the edge of a precipice, etc. engender the suicidal idea instantaneously and its execution follows so swiftly that patients often have no idea of what is taking place” (Durkheim, 1966: 65). By invoking the theory of the automatic impulse, supporters of the barrier did not have to confront the thorny problem of suicide as an act that is for many, a deliberate one. Ironically, mental health experts and advocates ended up associating suicide with mental illness without providing any further insight into the subjectivities of those afflicted, preferring instead to mask the voluntary component behind the screen of “illness.” During this time of public discourse outside and inside the doors of City Hall, a number of people had committed suicide from the Viaduct, which impressed upon City Council a sense of urgency and responsibility. Councillors passed a motion to ban reporting on the issue, for fear that the Viaduct’s power as a suicide magnet would be intensified. Here the fear of “imitation” or “copy cats” seemed to be playing itself out. However, this decision was quickly reversed when someone suggested that the public had a right to know what it was paying Dérivateur 76
for. The force of the moral argument of suicide prevention continued to gain momentum. Those who argued that the $6 million it would cost to build the barrier should be spent in more effective ways were silenced in favour of what, from a certain perspective, appears as a prohibition against suicide from the Viaduct and nothing more.
The Luminous Veil: Art + Life-Saving Function The question of whether the building of the suicide barrier could be viewed as an effective suicide prevention strategy from a public health perspective remained at this point an ambiguous proposition. Toronto has a lower suicide rate than the country as a whole and it has been declining since the 1980s (Krauss, 2003). The desire to build the barrier thus sprang not from a commitment to curb or restrain the general state of social unhappiness. The barrier does not intervene at all at this
aesthetic and cultural significance of the bridge torn apart by the suicide that is staged there. To some extent this concern might explain why City Council decided to commission a national competition for a design that merged both aesthetic and moral elements. Architect Dereck Revington’s “Luminous Veil” design was selected and went on to capture the 1999 Canadian Architect Award of Excellence. The “Luminous Veil” prompts the thought of the Viaduct as a site of ruin, which in turn creates the possibility of renewing Toronto’s relation to what it imagines itself to be. The bridge is a kind of urban spectacle displaying one of the optimistic currents of the city’s imaginative structure; a current that seeks to unify what is separate. As a suicide magnet it displays the pessimistic current of life in the city. It is a reminder of the general hopelessness and anomic condition that exists within its boundaries. The pessimistic current is cancelled not by the force of denial, which is one of the qualities of optimism, but by a material and symbolic intervention intent upon provoking an aesthetic experience imbued with a moral character. In its preventive function the “Luminous Veil” discloses its own prohibitive intention, its moral meaning: “Thou shalt not kill yourself here!” In its aesthetic dimension the “Luminous Veil” preserves the possibility of experiencing vertigo, something the Viaduct’s four-foot high railing was known for. The Viaduct’s famed “pull of the fall” becomes possible in a different way by the presence of the “Luminous Veil.” As Revington explains, “[b]eauty and terror hold hands. It is also standing next to the threshold that is tremulous. You know you are safe, the literal danger is removed, but the vibratory presence is felt” (Ireland, 2003: 2). Columnist Ann Ireland adds: “The structure cants away from the bridge … as if the thing were ‘falling off the bridge.’ It echoes the way the valley falls away, and tugs at our own memories of the fallen, the jumpers. Try to part the narrow rods. You can’t” (2003: 2). The “Luminous Veil” leaves a trace of its prohibitive function. It’s not just a sign of a commitment to those who suffer, to those troubled by their real or imagined separateness. As a prayer against de-
what in fact makes the viaduct , or any bridge for that matter, a magnet for suicides ? level of generality; it does not prevent suicide from occurring with the same frequency in Toronto as it did before it was built (FBCL, 2003). The image of the Viaduct as a scene where voluntary death is staged provokes a slightly different, though likely related, collective problem, namely, how to respond to the spectacle of despair that the act of suicide at that site represents, without ruining the aesthetic and cultural significance of the bridge as an optimistic symbol of the latent, but limitless, possibilities of the collective imagination of Torontonians. This is the kind of problem that can never be fully solved. The bridge is already ruined before its time (its optimism is cancelled) by the figure of suicide that accompanies it from the beginning. The suicide barrier therefore cannot simply be any kind of barrier – it cannot simply be a fence that prevents people from committing suicide, because the function that it must perform goes beyond the dictates of suicide prevention. The barrier will need to actually perform the function of renewing the 77 Dérivateur
spair the Veil’s gesture of hope is haunted by the mark of its own artifice. Something remains even after the aesthetic value is added to it, even after the restorative work is done, a trace of the ruining function. There is something about the “Luminous Veil” that spoils the optimism of the bridge. It awakens the terror of despair as a possibility for those who confront its physical presence as a www.clipartguide.com 0512-0704-1612-0508.jpg prohibition against the hopeless logic of their pessimism. The Veil resists the will of pessimism by its sheer physicality at the same time that it preserves the “vibratory presence” of the bridge, but it doesn’t do this without remainder. Consider what a few bridge-walkers had to say about it. “It feels like you’re in a cage,” while another reports, “One of my biggest pleasures was looking over the edge. Now it’s like you’re looking through the eyes of a jail cell.” Someone else comments: “I was hardly aware of it being a suicide magnet before. Now it’s the prevalent theme. The feeling is morbid, ominous” (Ireland, 2003). The renewal of the Viaduct through the intervention of the “Luminous Veil” is meant to create an impression of the bridge as a contemplative place, which thereby transcends the problem of the bridge coming to ruin before its time. But like any gesture of hope that invites the pessimistic voice to learn something from its own excess, the Veil is always haunted by the possibility that its intervention might prompt the very feeling of despair that it seeks to surmount. k
Bibliography Coyle, Jim. “No one knows barriers like the Veil’s supporters.” The Toronto Star: Feb 24, 2001, A25. Durkheim, E. Suicide. New York: The Free Press, 1966 (1897). Floyd, D.P. “Prince Edward (Bloor Street) Viaduct, Measures to Deter Suicide Attempts”, Report Addressed to the Urban Environment and Development Committee of the City of Toronto, May 28,1988. Hubacheck, William L. “Fencing Bloor viaduct folly.” The Toronto Star: Dec 21, 1997, CONTEXT. Ireland, Ann. “A basketry of nerves: A suicide-magnet with a view is covered by a Luminous Veil.” Eye: May 1, 2003. Krauss, Clifford. “A Veil of Deterrence for a Bridge With a Dark Side.” New York Times: Feb 16, 2003. Porter, Ryan T. “The Luminous Veil: life-saving art.” Imprint Online: Human: Vol 24, No 3, June 1, 2001. Simmel, Georg. “The Ruin”, in Kurt Wolff (ed), Georg Simmel 1858-1918, Ohio: Ohio State University Press, 1959. Simmel, Georg. “Bridge and Door.” Theory, Culture & Society, Vol 11 (1994), pp, 5-10. Zittrer, Zanna. “Stopping the Suicide Train.” Now Magazine Online Edition, Vol.23, No. 33, April 15-21, 2004. Dérivateur 78
Archive Text by
J ean-Christophe Cloutier design by Paula Henri Blum
There are eight million stories in the naked archiveâ€Ś this is one of them 79 DĂŠrivateur
When you sit in an archive, you request specific boxes , because these boxes contain the folders that contain the materials you want to see, based on your analysis of the collection’s finding aid. One of the things I like to do, once I’ve searched through the relevant folders, is to look at the other folders in the same box, sometimes from other random boxes, based on a whim or simply by chance. Of course, part of the reasoning behind some of my choices is a kind of hunch, a hope and a desire that there just might be “something” relevant hiding in there. For instance, an unusual occurrence took place on my last day inside the Ralph Ellison Papers at the Library of Congress. An item had been misplaced — perhaps by a careless previous researcher, perhaps by accident. In Box 100, Folder 3, “Essays and essay collections “Harlem is Nowhere, “1964…194748, n.d. (3 of 3),” and between the first two sections, respectively labeled “Legal documents” and “Newspaper clippings,” there was a copy of the Winter 1977 issue of The Massachusetts Review. In it was an article by Ellison on “The Art of Romare Bearden.” As this piece is from 1977 and appeared in his 1986 book Going to the Territory, and since his “Harlem is Nowhere” essay is from 1948 and appeared in his 1964 book, Shadow and Act, I knew this item was out of place. But there it was, in my path and on my mind. I read it through, and was reminded how important Bearden had been to Ellison’s view of the visual arts, a chief concern in my project. When I returned home, I took out my trusty Collected Essays of Ralph Ellison and leafed through for other pieces on Bearden. I found the eulogy he gave at his friend’s funeral, a text I had never yet read. It was there, in this text, that I found what was, at this stage in my Ellison project, the last piece of the puzzle. Only through this archival dérive was I able to eventually find my way to this text. Over the last five years, I’ve been lucky enough to encounter archival collections as both researcher and processing archivist. My path as an archivist for Columbia University’s Rare Book & Manuscript Library has also followed a rather uncannily serendipitous direction. The first major collection I processed was the Samuel Roth Papers, although I was originally slated to process the C.L.R. James Papers. When the James option fell through, my supervisor handed me a list of collections in need of processing and asked me to pick one. I looked at the names and couldn’t quite get as excited as I had been when I thought I would be handed that wonderful cricket freak, that Dick Tracy fan, that white-whale chasing Trinidadian James. Sam Roth’s name wasn’t on the list, but I knew Columbia had acquired his papers because my wife — also a literary scholar — had been doing some research for a professor who was writing about Joyce and Roth. I became really curious about Sam Roth when she told me he was the one responsible for “pirating” Joyce’s Ulysses in the Dérivateur 80
late 1920s in his Two Worlds magazines. I took a chance and asked if I could process the Roth collection, and they were more than happy to have me tackle it. It was fairly large, with over a hundred boxes of unprocessed and semi-processed material. In the middle of processing the Writings Series, I came upon a bound typescript labeled “Amiable with Big Teeth: A Novel Concerning the Love Affair between the Communists and the Black Sheep of Harlem by Claude McKay.” As a scholar of American and African-American literature — and one who had once written about McKay’s Home to Harlem (1928) — this was a tremendously intriguing discovery. The problem was this: was this really an unknown novel by the renowned Jamaican-born poet, novelist, and scholar Claude McKay, and if so, what the hell was it doing in Samuel Roth’s papers, an individual whose main claims to fame were the aforementioned “piracy” of Ulysses, and an obscenity trial regarding his mail-order pornography business. As I continued processing the Roth papers, I then stumbled upon two letters from McKay to Roth, and a day later I found a signed book contract between the two men and a third man named, of all things, Dante Cacici. I communicated this finding to Professor Brent Edwards, a leading McKay scholar at my institution, and we set out to solve the mystery. The story of our authentication of the MS — itself filled with archival dérives of the highest order — will be told once the novel is published some time in the near future. Needless to say, this was the archival dream; the discovery of a new, unknown novel by a major writer, and I had stumbled upon it through a definite dérive-like process. My interest in Joyce, my wife’s work, the sudden fall-through of the CLR James collection, my request to process Roth, and then that crazy McKay novel. These experiences have solidified my belief that there is a certain ‘calculated improvisation’ to the naked archive, and this applies whether you are a researcher or an archivist. This improvisation, 81 Dérivateur
in the end, amounts to an encounter with the archive that functions through the concept of the dérive. In Théorie de la Dérive, Guy Debord defines the dérive as a “technique du passage hatif” [technique of hurried passage]. While engaged in a dérive, the individual must renounce, for the duration of this hurried passage, all that is most familiar to him, including all “relations, work and leisure activities”… basically, all those things that usually fill your days and habitual reasons for activity. Instead, one must let go and embrace the solicitations of the new, foreign terrain, and the encounters that lie within. In other words, as Yoda reveals to the young Luke Skywalker on Degobah, you must “unlearn what you have learned.” Debord further notes that the randomnessfactor is not as decisive as one might
think, for from the point of view of the dérive, one can spot “psychogeographical contours, with constant currents, fixed points and vortexes that strongly discourage entry into or exit from certain zones.” While Debord was clearly speaking of a method for renewing one’s relationship to the city in an increasingly industrial, modern, and deadening world of routine, it occurred to me that his theory of the dérive is really a hidden theory of the archive. For what is the reality of archival research but a necessarily hurried passage that forces one to abandon previously acquired notions and intimations of a given subject? And what are finding aids if not precisely those psychogeographical contours, whose fixed points and vortexes lead scholars to and fro among surprising encounters? Architects design cities, archivists design collec-
tions. The wandering can be equally illuminating or dangerous. Dérive allows you to change the landscape by reconceptualizing its psychogeography, and similarly the archive ideally allows a scholar to tread new furrows on the landscape of a given author, movement, oeuvre. The alleyways and unmapped passages hidden within a collection’s document boxes offer an alternative to the main thoroughfares used and abused by most denizens. All disciplines — like, say, literary criticism — come with their own more or less ossified psychogeography, and only through a process akin to a dérive can a scholar hope to arrive at new destinations. This is not the new for its own
sake, but is rather a matter of survival in
overly populated areas! When you sit in that archive, about to undertake your stationary dérive, the staff has by now taken away all your things save perhaps for a laptop (if you’re lucky). They’ve given you an HB pencil and some paper. You are in exile from your usual environment, and can only bring what you take with you, somewhat like Luke Skywalker going inside the cave on Dagobah (I know, forgive me). What you will encounter in the archive will be seen through the eyes of your exile, and what you’ve already gathered as you entered this sanctum. In Representations of the Intellectual, Edward Said says the following about what it means to be an intellectual in exile: it means that you are always going to be marginal and that what you do as an intellectual has to be made up because you cannot follow
a prescribed path. If you can experience that fate, not as a deprivation and as something to be bewailed, but as a sort of freedom, a process of discovery in which you do things according to your own pattern, as various interests seize your attention, and as the particular goal you set for yourself dictates: that is a unique pleasure. The “process of discovery in which you do things according to your own pattern” encapsulates what takes place when one comes into contact with the archive. You cannot help but do things according to your own pattern, since the process of discovery itself, that which cannot be planned for, determines how you sew that pattern in time. Assailed on all sides, from the finding aid to that first folder being opened by a quivering fingertip with a life of its own, by “various interests” that, as Said says, “seize your attention,” you must struggle to remind yourself of “the particular goal you set for yourself” as that which “dictates” the performance. This dictated freedom is another way of describing what I call the ‘calculated improvisation’ that makes up my archival method. One must allow, or be open to, tangents, asides, straying. In other words, the dictating goal must be, and almost always is in the heat of the moment, erased, sublimated, as the freedom, the dérive, reigns. Just like a real urban dérive, when the archival dérive has been done right, it does something surnois to the wanderer, something insidious, and you’re not sure what happened. The events themselves don’t add up to the turmoil bubbling inside. After all, all you did was go for a stroll. Yet your belief parameters are shaken even though you can’t discern when or how this began, whether it has ended yet, and where it may still be actively burrowing your mind. Debord specifies that a dérive lasts, on average, about the length of a work day. In this sense, it corresponds to the usual hours most special collections libraries remain open daily. If the dérives are of “sufficient intensity,” then these can last three four days or more, punctuated, of course, Dérivateur 82
by sleep; a pattern most archival researchers will have experienced during their archival plundering. Debord also accounts for the necessity of cutting across large sections of the city in order to resume one’s dérive from another point, and he explains that the use of a taxi cab can provide such a clear separation and thus help the wanderer in his or her effort to change the scene and become destabilized. Similarly, the archival researcher should switch series or sub-series entirely and abruptly — like, say, going from Correspondence to Photographs — or, alternatively, take the pedestrian’s winding road to the new locale by looking intently at every single folder of every single box you request. One can spend an entire day in the same neighborhood, the same box. All this navigating naturally requires that a bit of homework be done beforehand. Debord insists on the study of maps, old and new, of the terrain about to be scoured, just as the researcher must carefully study the finding aid prepared by the archivist, perhaps even contacting the archivist directly if the psychogeographic arrangement of the collection demands deeper insight into its secret machinations. Maps and finding aids are works in progress, and here citizen and architect, researcher and archivist, can collaborate to create even greater traveling. Just as one can get lost within neighborhoods one has already scoured countless times, the power of the archive consists in rejuvenating known avenues of knowledge, taking unpredictable turns, creating an encounter one can never truly plan for. It is a rendezvous, and as such, has all the potentialities of the encounter, with its pleasures and, above all, its dangers. Once initiated into the dérive, you will suddenly be able to measure and assess corresponding intellectual adjacencies that had once looked so distant or worse, separated by abysses — for example, the fact that Ralph Ellison took comic books seriously, or that a literary pariah like Samuel Roth hired Claude McKay to ghostwrite a novel in the early 1940s. These miraculous correspondences, waiting for the synthesizing human brain in the archive, can topple paradigms, and alter a discipline’s urban grid. One day, Debord declares, we will construct cities merely to derive. 1
Fortunately, we’ve already built archives precisely for that purpose. Naturally, one can only push this détournement so far; at some point it breaks down. Where it breaks down, however, is in the realm of the practical. One might say that the détournement from dérive to archive works through a process of ‘pataphysical equivalency. 1 As a conceptual aid to the cognition of the archival encounter, it fits superbly; where it fails is in the exact details of procedure. Perhaps surprisingly again, an unlikely thinker offers a possible answer to this predicament; American novelist and essayist Ralph Waldo Ellison. Ellison develops a careful — yet fragmented — technique for surviving with style in the face of unpredictable encounters, turn of events, situations, ambushes, performances, transforning the blunder into a method. Ellison tells us that he “blundered into writing,” and thus blundered into mastering his craft. His stories are peppered with myriad cases of “blundering”: his blunder with the trumpet forced the little man at Chehaw station to come out of hiding; his blundering extravagance of laughter during a representation of Tobacco Road led him to some of his most incisive reflections on American racism and the human condition as a whole; or the blunder of his famous invisible protagonist who accidentally falls into that Harlem manhole only to land in that “place of power.” In other words, Ellison turns stumbling and blundering, perhaps the most natural, universal human activities, into another kind of “hurried passage” toward transcendence and the creation of new knowledge. Every turn, every move, undertaken during an archival dérive is a form of Ellisonian blunder in that it has the potential to provide an unpredictable transcendence. As Ellison puts it, “it is a playing upon possibility” (Ellison), and is thus an “affirmation of a ludic-constructive behavior” (Debord). One can think through Debord’s theory of the dérive as an archival technique, while Ellison can teach us to how to be psychologically and emotionally nimble, poised and ready for the archival encounter when you come to it (or it comes to you). k
See Boris Vian on ‘pataphysics as a science that functions through equivalency.
Paula Henri Blum
Acknowledgements Thank you to our Kickstarter Contributors
Many thanks to the following people who generously modeled for our photo shoots: Sidné Anderson-Ward Mark Marino Kristina Pasley-Lowe Phil Raiten Thanks also to: Dr. Faustroll Charles Kinbote de Selby Sterling Cooper Art Vandelay ( Vandelay Industries)
© The Dérivateur 2011
Opposite: Giant bubble floating on West 111th Street Dérivateur 86
art by 87 DĂŠrivateur
Paula Henri Blum
What Shape would your Daily Diagram be?
Published on Nov 8, 2011
The Dérivateur is an agent for musings off the beaten path. We are in pursuit of risky arguments, fortuitous correspondences and surprising...